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Local fire crews help in East Palestine

The borders of townships, cities or counties don’t mean much to firefighters when there is an emergency.

This is why several fire departments from Trumbull County have spent time on the scene of a train derailment and explosion some 40 miles away in Columbiana County.

Firefighters from Bazetta, Liberty and Weathersfield townships spent a long day Monday in East Palestine supporting a massive safety effort surrounding a derailed Norfolk Southern train with several cars of hazardous materials.

Four firefighters from Weathersfield’s volunteer fire department were on standby as a rapid intervention crew, meaning they were ready to help the frefighters and hazardous materials crews working directly with the cars if they got hurt, said Weathersfield fire Chief Tom Lambert.

At the same time, firefighters from Liberty Township were assigned to a task force to protect buildings in case something went wrong during the controlled release of volatile chemicals from five rail cars, Liberty fire Chief Doug Theobald said.

“Where we were staged, there probably had to be 45 to 50 fire departments and over 100 firefighters,” Theobald said. “We were all able to function in a task that was presented to them so clearly.”

Bazetta’s department sent three men and their rescue pumper firetruck Monday, and sent another four men and the truck on Tuesday, Bazetta fire Chief Tom Rink said.

Monday, however, was not the first day that emergency responders from the county made the trek to East Palestine.

On Saturday, fire chiefs from Trumbull County were asked to help with logistics at the site of the derailment.

Liberty, Howland, Girard, Vienna, Warren Township, Bristol and Gustavus fire departments as well as Newton Falls Joint Fire District and Hubbard’s Joint Eagle Fire District sent chief officers to assist, according to John Hickey, Trumbull County Emergency Management Agency director, who also has been down to East Palestine. Departments from Mahoning County also made the trek, including its hazardous materials response agency.

“The fire chiefs and crews that went did an excellent job, and we are fortunate to have that type of leadership in the county,” Hickey said.

Rink said that traveling several counties away to assist with an emergency was “unusual,” but that “we would want them to come help us as much as we would want to help them.”

A statewide mutual aid agreement means that fire departments can be asked to assist anywhere in Ohio, Lambert said.

“We may have to go to East Palestine this week, but next month we might have something horrible here where we call East Palestine or Cleveland or however far we need to go for resources,” Lambert said. “In the fire service, there’s no boundary lines.”

He said with a dwindling number of volunteer firefighters, mutual aid is vital to keep the community and firefighters safe.

Theobald said that Monday’s multi-department effort was proof that the mutual aid system has improved over the years.

He noted that it was a feat both that so many fire departments were able to work so well together and that other logistics such as feeding firefighters and fueling vehicles were coordinated so well.

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