NBC10 - Cydney Long
Emergency response officials testified before the NTSB panel on day two of the Paulsboro train derailment hearing. Officials are standing by their decisions they made during the devastating accident on Nov. 30. NBC10's Cydney Long reports.
Emergency response officials are defending their actions following the train derailment in Paulsboro, New Jersey last year that led to a leak of hazardous gas.
The officials testified in Washington on Wednesday before a National Transportation Safety Board panel that's investigating the November, 2012 derailment.
The NTSB has criticized the delay of evacuation orders to Paulsboro residents who at first were told to stay in their homes as vinyl chloride leaked from a rail car.
Glen Roemmich, the emergency manager for Paulsboro who ordered a shelter in place after the accident, was one of the officials who testified.
“The decision to shelter in place that morning was mine,” he said. “I stand by the decision."
Roemmich and other Gloucester County officials claimed that if Paulsboro residents had been immediately evacuated after the derailment and spill, it would have caused more confusion which would have hindered the emergency response.
“Evacuating them while responders are coming into the event may have caused more chaos and potential risk for residents,” said Jack DeAngelo of Gloucester County Emergency Management.
According to the officials, none of Gloucester County’s municipalities are equipped with enough transportation or shelters for a mandatory evacuation. They also say Paulsboro only has two school buses, no handicapped accessible transportation, not enough shelters and no hotel space.
“You’re talking 6000 people in a manner as quickly as you can,” Roemmich said. “You’re going to need a lot of transportation vehicles. People won’t leave home without their pets. We faced that during the train derailment.”
During the hearing, the NTSB noted that the lack of resources still exists today, and not just in Paulsboro.
"There is to my knowledge, no municipality within Gloucester County that would be able to evacuate their entire municipality or the number that Chief Roemmich is saying in quicker time," DeAngelo said.
"How can we address that problem?" asked Christopher Hart, the Vice Chairman of the NTSB. "Volunteer firefighters who need to be ready to handle anything but with things like this that are so rare, how can we assure that they're able to handle those as well."
Roemmich also admitted that it's still unclear if the Paulsboro community comprehends "shelter in place."
"There's no way of knowing without going door to door and asking people if they are prepared," he said.
Attorney Scott McKinley also attended the hearing.
"As the chairman pointed out today, he recognizes that there are significant limitations and problems with volunteer response," he said. "I think they're starting to appreciate how difficult of a job it really is."
McKinley's firm is representing more than 100 residents and first responders who are suing Conrail and others for the hardships and health risks they endured after the accident.
The NTSB has no deadline as to when they will offer its conclusion to the derailment investigation.