St. Louis fire chief warns railroads to hand over life-saving supplies

By Chris Hayes and Kayla Shepperd for

St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson says he’s been battling for about a decade for the railroads to bring critical safety supplies closer to the city. He said there’s no question we’ll need those supplies.

“It’s not if, it’s when. We know it’s going to happen,” Jenkerson said.

“We tried imploring the railroad to… give us the products,” Jenkerson said. “Give us the equipment to provide foam and provide fire-fighting type supplies on top of these trains, and it was like, ‘Okay, we’re going to do it.’ It never materialized.”

On the other side of the state, the railroads are currently storing those fire suppression chemicals, according to Jenkerson.

“Everything’s still in Kansas City, and that’s still a four-hour ride, you know, having a couple tank cars burn for four hours, that’s a big issue,” he said.

Union Pacific did not answer FOX 2’s question about the safety of chemicals kept in Kansas City, but a spokesperson did respond.

Spokesperson Robynn Tysver said, “Some of our practices and protocols in place to handle HAZMAT material:

  • We have regionally placed Hazardous Materials Management teams located around our network with a four-part mission: prevent, prepare, respond, and recover.
  • Our HAZMAT teams perform about 5,000 tank car inspections annually, auditing everything from tank car fittings and car markings to safety appliances. They also work alongside our contractors, our customers, and government regulators to inspect, report, and remedy findings.
  • We hold annual drills to make sure our emergency response plans remain effective and are followed by all employees.”

St. Louis resident Mechelle Minden was surprised when she learned about Jenkerson’s difficulty getting supplies closer to St. Louis.

“We need to have those chemicals,” Minden said.

Minden successfully made a safety difference about 10 years ago, through a grassroots group called ‘St. Louis for Safe Trains.’

“I’m very proud of the fact that myself and neighbors were able to come together and really get people to listen to us,” she said.

It was after the 2013 Canada derailment that Minden’s group worked with fire officials to create a map showing what a similar blast would do to Holly Hills. It would take out hundreds of homes.

“We got a lot of community support that we needed to bring this issue to the forefront,” Minden said.

They worked with the fire department to count train cars, report chemical markings they observed, and then the railroads reportedly adapted.

Jenkerson said it’s completely different from what FOX 2 first reported in 2015—gigantic strings of 100 oil train cars rolling right by the Arch.

“We don’t see it,” he said. “They go around us, if you will.”

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