While the National Transportation Safety Board panel hearings on the Paulsboro train derailment came to a close today, the State of New Jersey continues to conduct their own investigation into what happened after the November 2012 accident that led to a hazardous gas leak. The man who helped launch the state investigation is Washington Township Assistant Fire Chief Rick Sumek.
Sumek is one of 15 Washington Township firefighters who assisted Gloucester County’s Hazmat team in their response to the derailment. After observing what he believed to be a complete lack of preparedness from the Hazmat team, Sumek filed a complaint with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development which ultimately slapped Gloucester County with 12 violations related to safety and training. Today, Sumek remains adamant that he did the right thing by blowing the whistle.
“I would do the same thing,” he said. “I would battle with my own bosses. This is wrong! We need to fix it.”
Sumek says the County Hazmat team did not have the proper training and that it was evident in their response to the derailment. According to Sumek, neither the team’s air monitors nor weather station worked properly. Sumek also says his own men were never told to wear a breathing apparatus, even with vinyl chloride in the air at unsafe levels.
“Even if it’s not my men going to this call, a firefighter should be protected at the level he’s trained at,” he said.
The report from the state claims the Hazmat members did not wear a breathing apparatus, were not provided medical exams after being exposed and did not receive adequate training.
Gloucester County officials are contesting the state's findings however. They say the County did offer medical exams and that adequate training did take place. They also say they have the proper documentation to back that up.
“The County Office of Emergency Management contends that all of its members were offered and had access to medical screening throughout and after the Paulsboro derailment incident,” a county spokesperson said in a written statement. “Each member was and is a competent, qualified CBRNE team member of a trained professional group.”
Gloucester County Administrator Chad Burner also spoke with NBC10.
“Most fire departments or any emergency responders do have violations from time to time,” he said. “All of our responders are trained and certified. They’re all competent. That’s why they serve on the team.”
In regards to the other violations listed in the state's report, Burner says the county has taken action to correct them.
“It’s an opportunity to relook at everything,” Burner said. “We don’t want any of our emergency responders in harm’s way nor our residents. We’re going to do everything we can to ensure it doesn’t happen.”