Belt continues to work with other agencies to stay prepared

Part of preparing for the worst is building relationships before you need them.

The ability to engage the Chicago Fire Department and other first responders is one of the reasons Senior Director Safety and Regulatory Compliance Jason Charbonneau deemed the Sept. 20-22 HazMat drills a resounding success.

A unique morning and afternoon session was held each day during the annual event. Participants, which included a Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)/Civil Support Team (CST) from the U.S. Army and representatives from the Short Line Safety Institute (SLSI), reacted to emergency scenarios. The bulk of attendees, 190, were from the Chicago Fire Department (CFD).

Sgt. Young Lee played a key role by operating a drone he’s licensed to pilot; each mock incident saw Lee use it to find equipment marked as damaged. Sgt. Ramon Ortiz and Director of Police/Risk Management Gerald Conoboy also were on hand. 

Members of the Safety Committee participated, including Switchmen Matt Davidson and Jeff Votteler, who moved equipment.

Assistant Director of Safety and Compliance Mark Labbe also aided the effort.

CFD HazMat/WMD Training Coordinator Jeff Hennessy expressed his appreciation to the Belt for providing a controlled environment to train and employees to facilitate the process. 

“The biggest benefit from our standpoint is the interaction between the Belt and the CFD,” Hennessy said. “It was an opportunity to bridge gaps, determine how well we’re trained and know who will respond to what aspects of a given emergency. It also builds trust among all of the parties involved.” 

The Bedford Park and Chicago fire departments alternate turns each year. 

In preparation for the event, Safety Department employees worked with SLSI representatives, informing them of the Belt’s layout and potential risk factors to develop plausible scenarios.

“We came up with scenarios based on tasks we perform every day,” Charbonneau said. 

Following the full drills, a tabletop exercise was conducted in an office setting. It was an opportunity for the 15 participants to practice emergency response skills. Charbonneau said the event was “eye-opening” for supervisors.

“There’s a lot of moving parts to an emergency scenario,” he said. “It takes a lot to mitigate a leak or spill.”