Railway accident in Poland: volunteers training vital when responding to disaster

Published: 9 March 2012 12:17 CET
13 volunteers and two rescue team from the Polish Red Cross worked into the night to help rescue survivors from the train crash in southern Poland.
13 volunteers and two rescue team from the Polish Red Cross worked into the night to help rescue survivors from the train crash in southern Poland.

by Giovanni Zambello

Thirteen Red Cross volunteers and two Polish Red Cross rescue teams have taken part in the rescue operations following the tragic rail accident on Saturday night in southern Poland, where two trains collided head-on killing 16 people and injuring 56.

“The view was terrible. It looked like someone had crumpled the trains like paper balls and thrown them onto the tracks” says Michal Stępień, leader of the Polish Red Cross rescue team ‘Będzin’.

The trains, carrying approximately 350 people, collided in the small town of Szczekociny, after one of them was diverted to the wrong track.

The two nearest Polish Red Cross search and rescue teams - Będzin from Silesia Regional Branch and Kielce from Świętokrzyskie Regional Branch – were mobilized at 9.40 on Saturday evening, when a message from the regional crisis management centre in Katowice instructed them to leave immediately towards Szczekociny, where police would be guiding emergency services on the site of a mass casualty incident. 50 casualties had already been reported.

“I was home on Saturday night, watching TV and trying to relax after hard week of work, studying and volunteering in the Red Cross,” says Rafał Maziejuk, a member of the rescue team ‘Kielce’. “Suddenly, breaking news interrupted the programme to report the accident. Then it all began.”

By 11pm, the Polish Red Cross teams were at the scene.

“What we experienced on spot was indescribable. Even though most of us had experience, thanks to recent rescue trainings where we simulated a train crash scenario, the view of the smashed trains and casualties will never fade from our memories,” Rafał says. “But once there, we had no time to deliberate. We needed to act.”

During the long hours that followed, the 13 Red Cross volunteers, operating three emergency vehicles worked side by side with national and volunteer fire service units, police squads and national emergency medical service, to rescue injured passengers and victims from the remains of the train coaches, and in the process of transport and evacuation of survivors to the nearest hospitals.

At 2.15am, the medical coordinator of the field staff decided to stand-down the two Red Cross teams, which could enjoy a well-earned hot cup of tea with the fire-fighters.

“Over the last year, the Europe Zone has been hit by a number of dramatic disasters which caused hundreds of deaths, such as the crash of a RusAir flight in Russia last summer, the capsizing of the Russian river cruise ship Bulgaria on the Volga River in July and, more recently, the Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia last month,” says Alberto Monguzzi, disaster management and shelter delegate in the Europe Zone Office. “It is essential for the Red Cross Red Crescent – particularly given its crucial role in disaster response - to increase its investment in the training of emergency volunteers and possible new members of the regional disaster response teams, so that they have an adequate preparation and the right skills to act in these maybe less frequent but equally deadly types of disaster.”

For more pictures of the railway accident and the Polish Red Cross volunteers activities, visit the Polish Red Cross Facebook page.

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