Get On Track
April 10, 2023
*To take the corresponding CDE quiz, visit the College of Emergency Dispatch.*
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has your back in responding to railway incidents, and the Fire Priority Dispatch System™ (FPDS®) is right there alongside it. FPDS Protocol 70: Train and Rail Collision/Derailment and Protocol 75: Train and Rail Fire substantially mirror FRA emergency dispatch recommendations for addressing railway incidents.
Starting with a plan is the optimal approach to any situation.
Preparation is the best defense to ensure safe and reliable transportation of people and products and stay in compliance with federal railway regulations, said Mike Grizhewitsch, FRA transportation specialist and co-speaker for the State of 911 Webinar “PSAP Response to Railroad Incidents and Benefits of Intelligent Transportation Systems” (Jan. 10, 2023). “A well-thought-out plan helps prevent incidents before they occur.”
Once an incident occurs, the next steps begin with obtaining as much information as possible and notifying railway officials. The Protocols and the FRA direct the Emergency Fire Dispatcher to contact the Railroad Dispatch Operations Center within their jurisdiction to give assistance.
“Emergency Dispatchers are truly the first line of help,” said Grizhewitsch, who developed the FRA video series highlighting response. “You are the first responders.”
Railroad dispatch operators are in direct contact with the train’s crew and can instruct the crew to stop the train or slow down, depending on the incident. Train tracks are considered live, active tracks until there is confirmation from the railroad company that train traffic has been stopped. According to Protocols 70 and 75: “If it is determined that the train cannot be stopped, notify the on-scene incident commander immediately.”
The determinants on both protocols address the exact location of the train, including whether it’s above ground level, below ground level, in a tunnel, over water, etc. Suffixes identify the type of train, and the caller’s answers to Key Questions can uncover any hazards and whether anyone is in immediate danger, and if so, how many people. The Key Question asking where they are located gives a heads up to emergency responders.
Protocols 70 and 75 include two questions indicating hazards to people on scene: “Is anyone sick or injured?” and “Is anyone in immediate danger?” In immediately or potentially immediately life-threatening situations, a caller will receive instructions to guide them through actions to make their situation or a bystander's situation more survivable. This includes instructions that can range from moving away from danger to more complex actions, like advising a caller on what to do when certain medical issues are present and if it is safe to treat the patient.
Both protocols contain a DLS Link to emergency medical instructions.
Protocols address location by asking “Where exactly is the train?” A blue-and-white Emergency Notification System (ENS) sign posted at or near a rail crossing lists the proper number to call to contact railroad authorities, who can warn trains of your situation. The ENS sign also includes a crossing number, known as the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) National Crossing Inventory Number, which indicates the train’s exact position along the track.1
The caller can identify the presence of hazardous materials using the United Nations (UN) or North American (NA) four-digit number on the train’s warning placard. The number indicates the type of chemical being transported. Federal hazardous material regulations require that each bulk packaging, freight container, unit load device, transport vehicle, or rail car must be placarded on each side and each end.2
One of the Key Questions on both protocols—and a Jurisdictionally Approved Question (JAQ)—is “What is the train number?” Railroad cars are identified by two, three, or four letters and by a number up to six digits long. The letters, known as reporting marks, indicate the owner of the car, while the number places it in the owner’s fleet. Reporting marks ending in X indicate ownership by a private company as opposed to a railroad.
The FRA recommends maintaining a list of railroad contacts to notify in case of an emergency. If possible, the EFD should stay on the line during the entire incident to appraise the response of a potentially evolving and hazardous situation.
The two FPDS train protocols serve different purposes.
Protocol 70: Train and Rail Collision/Derailment
Situations covered by Protocol 70 are train collision/derailment accidents on tracks or at railroad crossings. Also, as a Chief Complaint Selection Rule states, “If a train incident involves both a collision/derailment and a fire, use Protocol 70.”
Protocol 70 has DELTA- and CHARLIE-level Determinant Codes. If a person is trapped by the train without collision or derailment, the call is coded as 70-D-1 “Person trapped/struck by train (no collision/derailment).” All collision/derailment incidents are assigned a DELTA-level Determinant Code. It’s important for the Emergency Dispatcher to understand some key definitions in this protocol and to make sure the caller also understands them. For example, Determinant Code 70-D-8 “Collision/Derailment on BRIDGE/TRESTLE” refers to “a structure spanning and providing passage over a gap or barrier such as a river or roadway.”
There are five CHARLIE-level Determinant Codes on Protocol 70: 70-C-1 “LARGE FUEL/FIRE LOAD vehicle on tracks,” 70-C-2 “COMMERCIAL vehicle on tracks,” 70-C-3 “Other vehicle on tracks,” 70-C-4 “Stranded on train,” and 70-C-5 “Unknown situation (investigation).” The protocol defines LARGE FUEL/FIRE LOAD vehicles as “Vehicles, usually large in size, that can carry large amounts of combustible materials. These may pose additional threats during firefighting operations and require additional resources.” A bus, camper, or motor home may be considered a LARGE FUEL/FIRE LOAD vehicle.
A COMMERCIAL vehicle, meanwhile, is defined as “Any vehicle that transports products related to business or trade. The products can be dangerous or hazardous.” Examples of these types of vehicles are a tanker or a tractor-trailer (semi).
Determinant Code 70-C-5 “Unknown situation (investigation)” allows the EFD to still code and dispatch the call when limited information is available.
It’s important to note that Rule 2 states, “All derailments are considered to have electrical hazards until proven otherwise.” A PDI cautions against touching unconscious people or anything in contact with the electrical hazard.
Protocol 75: Train and Rail Fire
Protocol 75 is for any reported fire to the locomotive engine, passenger cars, or any freight compartment rail cars, whether stationary or moving.
Protocol 75 has nine Determinant Suffixes to differentiate the type of train involved: C = Cable car, F = Freight train, L = Light rail, M = Monorail, O = Other, P = Passenger (commuter) train, S = Subway, T = Trolley/Streetcar, and U = Unknown.
There are eight DELTA-level Determinant Codes, one CHARLIE-level Determinant Code, and one OMEGA-level Determinant Code. The dispatcher will select the Determinant Code based on where the train is located in relation to ground and water (below ground, above ground, at ground, in tunnel, on bridge/trestle, into/over water) or whether the incident involves buildings/structures (75-D-1) or vehicles (75-D-2).
If the train and rail fire involve a moving train, this situation is assigned the OMEGA-level Determinant Code, 75-Ω-1 “Moving train.” Unknown situations requiring an investigation are coded as 75-C-1. As in Protocol 70, “Unknown situation (investigation)” allows the EFD to still code and dispatch the call when limited information is available.
For a private caller, there are a few additional Key Questions that help the EFD determine which DLS Links to choose. If these questions reveal Caller Danger – Not Trapped, Person on Fire, Danger Present – HAZMAT, or Tunnel Fire situations, the link will be to something other than Panel X-1 (Routine Disconnect).
For more information
Regulations on reporting railroad accidents and incidents can be found in Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 225, Railroad Accidents/Incidents, Reports Classification, and Investigations. The purpose of the regulations is to provide the FRA with accurate information concerning the hazards and risks that exist on the nation’s railroads. It is available at www.ecfr.gov/current/title-49/subtitle-B/chapter-II/part-225.
The FRA has developed web-based informational programs to improve the knowledge, skills, and abilities of first responders when assessing and responding to rail-related incidents, highlighting key points such as:
• locating an incident
• how to determine which railroad to notify
• how to stop a train in an emergency
• how to locate the train crew and victims
• how to locate railroad personnel and railroad documents
• determining the appropriate response
Videos can be found at the FRA’s home page under “In the Spotlight" at railroads.dot.gov. Direct links to law enforcement, 911 emergency dispatchers, and field responders are at railroads.dot.gov/highway-rail-crossing-and-trespasser-programs/first-responder.
The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) developed a railroad and PSAP interaction standard (Public Safety Communications & Railroad Interaction Standard Operating Procedures, NENA-STA-013.2-2016) that provides guidance and relevant information for operational interaction between Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), public safety communications, railroad call centers, railroad-sworn personnel in the field, and related railroad responders. The document and summary are available at nena.org/page/RR_PSAP_InteractStnd.
1. “Stay Safe. Know the Facts. What Emergency Responders Need to Know About Railroad Crossings.” Operation Lifesaver. oli.org/sites/default/files/2021-01/OLI_Brochure_Emergency_Responders_WEB_version.pdf (accessed Jan. 24, 2023).
2. “Hazardous Materials Placarding Requirements.” U.S. Department of Transportation. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. phmsa.dot.gov/sites/phmsa.dot.gov/files/docs/Placarding_Requirements.pdf (accessed Jan. 24, 2023).
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