Now more than ever, the safety of our communities and loved ones is top of mind. For railroads and first responders, though, that steadfast commitment never wavers.
While many of us are staying at home, they have continued their essential work to keep the country moving and keep us all safe. This week marks good news for our shared commitment to safety. The Security and Emergency Response Training Center (SERTC) recently launched SERTC Academy, its new virtual training platform. With business travel on hold due to the pandemic, the launch of this important online training module will mean that emergency preparedness need not take a back seat to COVID-19 safety in communities nationwide.
A Time-Honored Tradition
America’s freight rail industry has a long history of prioritizing preparedness. Embodied by SERTC, the importance of community safety runs deep in railroading. 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 The 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, Director of 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”
Adapting to the pandemic alongside the nation, SERTC Academy offers a new medium for first responders to make progress in their career and community goals despite COVID-related stay-at-home restrictions. The online, interactive classroom component is mirrored on 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 are lifted, SERTC Academy participants can 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. With state and local budgets stretched thin due to the pandemic, this shortened commitment reduces the financial burden associated with covering the shifts of employees who are training.
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.
“Railroads’ commitment to the safety and the communities we serve runs deep, which is why we make every effort to ensure first responders are prepared to safely respond to a potential rail incident,” said Lisa Stabler, former TTCI President. “This innovative new training model, adapts to today’s challenges and meets first responders where they are despite the ongoing pandemic.”