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Paulsboro Officials Fire Back At NTSB Criticism On Train Derailment

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Paulsboro Police Chief Chris Wachter talks to FOX 29's Dave Schratwieser Paulsboro Police Chief Chris Wachter talks to FOX 29's Dave Schratwieser
NTSB criticism of local response NTSB criticism of local response
PAULSBORO, N.J. -

"Unfair and unwarranted."

That was Paulsboro Police Chief Chris Wachter firing back at federal investigators after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) claimed that local officials may have done more harm than good when a train derailed in New Jersey last November.

"Federal investigators are saying that; federal government at its best," said Chief Wachter. "We did what we thought we had to do at the moment. It unfolded very quickly."

The NTSB said that Paulsboro officials didn't follow safety standards for handling a chemical spill, compounding first responders and the public's exposure to the 23,000 gallons of vinyl chloride that leaked from the derailed freight train.

"Once we realized what we had is when we started to make the other precautionary measures, sheltering in place, moving people in and out trying to lock everything down," Wachter responded.

"No one should criticize them," said Paulsboro resident Janice Callahan. "They did what they thought was best, but they didn't have the correct information." When asked who she blames, "It's Conrail," she said.

Paulsboro residents defended local authorities and first responders, but the NTSB claims that they set up a command post too close to the spill hot zone. That first responders should have been wearing breathing apparatus and that local residents should have been evacuated, not told to stay indoors.

"They weren't here. They don't know," Wachter said. "They can say what they want to say. We know we did what was appropriate for the community."

"The NTSB has requested that we don't comment on that so we're adhering to that," said Conrail spokesman Kirk Dorn.

While Conrail wouldn't comment, 24 local first responders have filed suit against the rail company since the spill. Claiming they suffer from headaches, breathing and neurological problems.

"We just hope to finally get some answers; just finally get to the bottom of this," Danielle Doran told FOX 29. She lives a few hundred yards from the derailment site. "I'm concerned about our health, we have children, concerned for their health nobody knows what's going to happen in the future."

"You can always do things better, always do things a little cleaner, always a little faster. You take these opportunities to learn," Wachter added.

Chief Wachter said local officials want to know exactly what happened leading up to the derailment and when or if Conrail plans to replace the bridge where the derailment occurred.

Wachter said he and all of his officers who responded to the scene have undergone medical testing, just in case any symptoms develop in the future.

The NTSB hearings will continue on Wednesday.

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