Purchase photos

Train wreck among year's top stories

12/29/2013

A look at some of the top stories from northwest Kansas in 2013.

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

The first order of business in the early-morning hours of July 16 was to determine exactly what kind of fire they were fighting.

The city of Hays 911 Communications Center received an alert at 1:18 a.m. there was a train wreck and fire at the Vine Street crossing. The Hays Fire Department received an alert two minutes later. Upon arriving at the scene, Lt. Luke Scoby had to assess the situation.

"The hazardous materials part was our main concern at the beginning, finding out what we had involved," Scoby said. "Addressing the fire situation was No. 2."

A Union Pacific freight train with three locomotives and 79 cars, which was westbound from Salina to Denver, was diverted off the main track and collided into the rear of a stationary train on a side track at the rail yard near the railroad crossing at Eighth and Vine. Ten cars from the main train derailed, as did four cars from the sitting train and four cars located next to the sitting train on an adjacent spur.

Freight trains carry a list of the contents in the cars they are transporting, but in their haste to get out of the locomotive, the three crew members did not have that list. Not long after, however, Union Pacific faxed a list of contents.

The train contained 20 cars carrying ethanol -- a volatile, flammable liquid. None of those cars derailed, but the fire department wanted to contain the fire so it didn't spread to those cars.

"We're all hazardous technicians," Scoby said. "When it comes to hazardous response, we can all do that if we're called.

"On the fire-fighting aspect, we've never trained for an event like this, but we train with our big lines regularly. We're good at deploying those."

Flames were shooting hundreds of feet into the air when firefighters arrived at the scene.

"You just kind of see a glow get bigger and bigger," said Hays firefighter Brandon Woods, remembering what it was like as his fire truck neared the scene.

Hays Fire Department, assisted by Ellis County Rural Fire Department, Ellis Fire Department and Victoria Fire Department, joined forces to combat the fire. Firefighters poured foam and 5,000 gallons of water per minute on the fire for more than five hours.

Hays Water Plant Superintendent Jim Cooper said in July he estimated 1.65 million gallons of water was used to douse the blaze, approximately 300,000 gallons per minute. He said it took about two days for the city to recover from the high water usage.

The National Transportation Safety Board had three investigators on the scene. A final report has yet to be issued.

Typically, a shift for Hays Fire Department has a captain, lieutenant and five firefighters. On shift that night were Scoby, Woods, Brandon Zimmerman, Ross Moeder, Doug Randa and Myron Dreiling. The shift captain, Aaron Ditter, was in Topeka for a training class.

That left Scoby and the remaining firefighters to be first on the scene from the department.

After they responded to the call, most of the department eventually was at the scene.

Among others to respond was the Ellis County Sheriff's Department, Hays Police Department, Ellis County Emergency Management, Ellis County EMS, Ellis County Red Cross, city of Hays Public Works, city of Hays Utility Department and Midwest Energy, as well as the city's finance director, who issued media reports.

"I'd say we just took all our training we trained on, we had to use it all there, and it went well," Scoby said. "Our guys did a really great job."