“We've had two incidents in the last week that we haven't dealt with in the last 20 years,” he said.
Konopek said he was very pleased with the response to both the 20-car train derailment on June 30 and the fire at Del Real Stables that killed 18 horses last Wednesday. He thought his officers performed well considering the unprecedented nature of the situations and that the situations happened within days of each other.
He attributes that level preparedness with continuous training between the Plainfield police department with the Plainfield and Oswego fire districts, which Plainfield police works with, and other emergency agencies.
Konopek also explained that while the department itself hadn't seen something like the train derailment before, some of his officers have had to respond to a myriad of other emergencies when they were members of other police departments around the country. That type of experience, even in environments very different from Plainfield, help them when something out of the ordinary happens.
“We have to train for almost every type of situation that is imaginable,” Konopek said.
For both Konopek and Plainfield Deputy Fire Chief John Stratton, the train derailment was a major undertaking even though the worst possible outcomes were avoided. They said a lot of factors went in their favor for disaster to be averted. Still, such a call demands a lot from officers and firefighters.
“With an incident like that, the guys' adrenaline is up for hours,” Stratton said.
With firefighters and police officers needing to be alert and working in potentially dangerous situations for hours, timing is important, considering emergencies don't just happen between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. For the firefighters, it helped that two different shifts had to respond to the two big emergencies, so that those who were up late for the derailment were not on call for the fire.
After the emergency has ended and the commotion has settled down, it's then up to Konopek and Stratton to see how the first responders are doing.
“First thing I want to make sure is, are the guys OK?” Stratton said. “How are they dealing with it?”
This includes making sure they haven't experienced any trauma and making sure that if they need to talk through something, they're able to. Stratton also tries to make sure that after a long and difficult shift, they can get some rest so they're ready for the next call.
After everyone is rested though, then it's time to continue the evaluation of the response. This week, the Plainfield Fire Department is going to perform a “hot wash” or a critique of its performance during the train derailment. Stratton has already used the wreckage to show his firefighters who weren't on the scene what a derailment situation looks like.
Even after all that work, both emergency departments need to be ready for the next situation, and with the last two major incidents, the experience will only help the going forward.
“If a call came in right now,” Konopek said, “we'd be back in there doing it again.”