NORTH EAST, Pa. (Erie News Now) — Although our region has never seen an incident as severe as the Ohio derailment, local leaders say it’s critical to be prepared.
“You’re always watching,” said North East Township Supervisor Fredrick “Fritzer” Shunk. “You’re always thinking, ‘Every one of those railroad lines has storm water right next to it, and all that storm water leads to Lake Erie where we pull our drinking water out of. It’s always on our minds.”
Three sets of railroad tracks run through North East Township, shipping goods into and products out of the small, lakeside borough.They’re crucial to the local economy, but they’re not without risk, as the nation saw this month in East Palestine, Ohio.
“It really scares you,” said Doug Slater of Fuller Hose Company. “We’re all volunteer here. And when you look at that, not only are we putting our lives in danger but our family‘s lives too. We might not come home from that. God bless that nothing bad happened down there, but the report of what was there, and the evacuation order had to do put a lot of lives in danger.”
Now, the township, borough and fire departments are reviewing their emergency plans, a preventative step to keep the community safe.
The key to handling any emergency is having a good plan. So the township not only has a state-mandated emergency response plan, it also has worked with north east borough to develop a sourcewater protection plan, just to be safe.
“So everyone knows when the time does come what has to be done, when it has to be done, who is supposed to do what. All of that stuff is already in place,“ Shunk said.
In an emergency, the fire department is the first line of defense, as hazmat-trained firefighters evacuate the area and work to contain the incident until railroad response teams arrive.
It’s a crucial job, not only saving lives in immediate danger, but working to protect the region into the future.
“There are a lot of resources in our region,” Slater said. “Everything we have here, the grapes, Lake Erie, we have to protect the waterways. We have to protect Lake Erie. If we get into that, who knows what could happen.”
So as the sun shines along the lake and trains race past, local leaders know how important both economic drivers are, and they’re working to keep both the people and the region’s resources safe.
“If you don’t have water, you don’t have anything,” Shunk said. “That’s the plain and simple of it. If you don’t have clean water, you’ve got nothing”