While many people stayed home during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, freight railroads continued their essential work to keep the country moving and keep us all safe.

To ensure emergency responders continued to receive training, the Security and Emergency Response Training Center (SERTC) launched SERTC Academy, a virtual training platform. Since its launch in 1985, SERTC has prepared more than 70,000 firefighters and emergency first responders to safely and swiftly respond to a rail incident involving hazardous materials (hazmat). Operated by MxV Rail — formerly Transportation Technology Center Inc (TTCI) — the rail industry’s premier rail research in Pueblo, CO, SERTC has received accreditation from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a member of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium (NDPC).

SERTC training distinguishes itself by placing first responders in real-world situations — making the education more engaging and better preparing them for local, on-the-ground action. “At our one-of-a-kind facility in Pueblo, the hands-on portion is what makes our class different from many other classes that are out there,” explains Forrest Wieder, Executive Director at SERTC. “Whether it’s on the road or on the rail,” students are submerged in the material. “It really can’t get more real than what we’re offering.”

Community Preparedness & the “New Normal”

The online, interactive classroom component is mirrored in adult education and will use the same high-quality SERTC material and instructors to create an engaging experience for trainees while allowing virtual flexibility. “COVID-19 taught us many things. One thing it taught us is that the way we teach to our nation’s first responders is to come up with diverse modalities,” reflected Wieder.

When travel restrictions were lifted, SERTC Academy participants could fulfill the in-person, hands-on component of their course work at the Colorado facility in just three days instead of the traditional five days.

Freight Rail’s Ongoing Commitment

In many ways, first responder training is a team effort. Railroad and government-supported funding initiatives are available to ensure that interested men and women nationwide have access to SERTC training. America’s Class I freight railroads sponsor thousands of in-person trainings each year at the center. Alternatively, first responders across the country can secure funding through the NDPC. Interested participants can visit SERTC.org, navigate to the NDPC website, and submit their applications — all in a few minutes. For qualifying firefighters and first responders, NDPC offers full funding for the new online training courses as well as the in-person component.