BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Ten years ago Monday, a train derailment triggered fear and flames in downtown Baltimore. The Howard Street tunnel fire led to major changes in the way first responders would handle a similar crisis.
Adam May takes us behind-the-scenes of a detailed training exercise.
More than 20 emergency response agencies run through numerous disaster scenarios involving a train derailment and hazardous materials. The drill is a direct result of the 2001 Howard Street tunnel fire.
“I was a new firefighter so I was scared,” said Bob Maloney, who is now Baltimore’s emergency management director.
The derailment triggered a dangerous chemical fire that burned for six days, shut down parts of the city and left firefighters puzzled, wondering what was burning and how to put it out.
Drills like the one held Monday were not happening 10 years ago.
“Absolutely not. Not on the frequency or level of intensity, no way,” said Maloney.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says the city is much better prepared.
“We’ve learned what not to do. We’ve learned who needs to be at the table to get it right and we’ve learned open communications and partnership will keep the public safe,” Rawlings-Blake said.
Five years after the disaster, CSX paid Baltimore City $2 million to settle a lawsuit over fire-related expenses. A spokesman for the train company says they’ve also improved safety and training.
“We invest a lot of time and energy and money in making sure those lines are safe,” said Bob Sullivan.
The Howard Street tunnel is more than 100 years old. Replacing it could cost more than $1 billion.