First Responders Deserve Protection Too


| Jim Coogan

Sometimes, the only protection available when a person is injured is legal protection.  It is frustrating that the legal process can generally only come to someone’s aid after they have already been hurt.  However, that does not mean that the protection of the law is meaningless.  On the contrary, the law is a powerful tool to change dangerous behavior by individuals or companies in the future.  Even if harm cannot be undone, it does not have to be rendered meaningless.

In this case, the law must act to protect the heroes who hold our society together: First Responders.  We rely on firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and other emergency response professionals to secure accident scenes, check for survivors, to administer medical treatment, to put out fires, to save lives.  In our fast-moving world, with all the moving vehicles and commerce that are constantly swirling around us, we are surrounded by dangers that can suddenly erupt into explosions, fires, and chemical clouds.

That is exactly what happened in Blount County, Tennessee when a CSX Train derailed due to a broken train car axle.  The derailment caused chemicals (acrylonitrile–a component in plastics manufacture) to ignite, explode, and emit a massive chemical cloud.  The cloud was so massive that 5,000 people in a 2-mile radius were evacuated.  First Responders did their heroic duty and worked to clear the area, secure the scene, battle the blaze, and protect life and property.  But the company did not tell them how dangerous the toxic chemicals were that were burning.  The workers have experienced a variety of medical problems since the July, 2015 derailment.  They have sued CSX in a Class Action Suit to recover damages for medical treatment and their injuries (among other things, cyanide results from burning acrylonitrile).

CSX recently asked the U.S. District Federal Judge to dismiss the case on the basis that emergency responders “assume the risk” of injuries when responding to an emergency.  Thankfully, Judge Varlan saw through this evasive motion and spoke the truth: first responders do sign up for a risky job, but not for unseen risks that are concealed from them (like just how toxic the chemicals are that were emitted from that fire).  This ruling means that companies are likely to be more forthcoming about the dangers that their accidents expose First Responders to.  People that run towards explosions and fires deserve the chance to protect themselves from hidden dangers.  And when a company asks for that help, they are obligated to be honest about the risks they’re exposing our heroes to.

Sometimes, the only protection available when a person is injured is legal protection.  It is frustrating that the legal process can generally only come to someone’s aid after they have already been hurt.  However, that does not mean that the protection of the law is meaningless.  On the contrary, the law is a powerful tool to change dangerous behavior by individuals or companies in the future.  Even if harm cannot be undone, it does not have to be rendered meaningless.

In this case, the law must act to protect the heroes who hold our society together: First Responders.  We rely on firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and other emergency response professionals to secure accident scenes, check for survivors, to administer medical treatment, to put out fires, to save lives.  In our fast-moving world, with all the moving vehicles and commerce that are constantly swirling around us, we are surrounded by dangers that can suddenly erupt into explosions, fires, and chemical clouds.

That is exactly what happened in Blount County, Tennessee when a CSX Train derailed due to a broken train car axle.  The derailment caused chemicals (acrylonitrile–a component in plastics manufacture) to ignite, explode, and emit a massive chemical cloud.  The cloud was so massive that 5,000 people in a 2-mile radius were evacuated.  First Responders did their heroic duty and worked to clear the area, secure the scene, battle the blaze, and protect life and property.  But the company did not tell them how dangerous the toxic chemicals were that were burning.  The workers have experienced a variety of medical problems since the July, 2015 derailment.  They have sued CSX in a Class Action Suit to recover damages for medical treatment and their injuries (among other things, cyanide results from burning acrylonitrile).

CSX recently asked the U.S. District Federal Judge to dismiss the case on the basis that emergency responders “assume the risk” of injuries when responding to an emergency.  Thankfully, Judge Varlan saw through this evasive motion and spoke the truth: first responders do sign up for a risky job, but not for unseen risks that are concealed from them (like just how toxic the chemicals are that were emitted from that fire).  This ruling means that companies are likely to be more forthcoming about the dangers that their accidents expose First Responders to.  People that run towards explosions and fires deserve the chance to protect themselves from hidden dangers.  And when a company asks for that help, they are obligated to be honest about the risks they’re exposing our heroes to.

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