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Milwaukee prepares for a streetcar emergency

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee now has two streetcars being tested on the tracks. Three more will arrive as they’re completed at the factory in Brookville, Pennsylvania.

As crews continue the on-street testing in Brew City, there’s also preparation happening behind the scenes. Milwaukee’s Heavy Urban Rescue Team is preparing for what could go wrong with The Hop.

"If there were to be a person trapped between a vehicle and the streetcar. If there was a person trapped underneath the streetcar or trapped between the streetcar and one of the loading stations," Deputy Chief Aaron Lipski with the Milwaukee Fire Department said as he explained some of the worst-case scenarios.

Emergency responders are getting ready for all of those possibilities. CBS 58 Morning News anchor Jessica Tighe was invited to the Milwaukee Fire Academy to get an exclusive look as firefighters trained using an old bus. They used the same techniques they'd use for a rescue with The Hop. 

"We can use some of our airbag equipment, tools we carry, to lift the (streetcar) off the tracks and remove something if someone ever gets trapped underneath it,” Lt. Nick Poliak with the Milwaukee Fire Department said.

They’re training for crashes, derailments, and wires coming down among other emergencies.

"They're all practical scenarios that we never hope to encounter, but other streetcar systems have encountered them so we want to be just as prepared,” Darryll Simpson, General Manager of the Milwaukee streetcar system said.

Numbers from the Federal Transit Administration show there were at least 252 crashes across the country last year involving streetcars. One of them was deadly.

Many of the crashes are caused by drivers turning left in front of a streetcar.

“(Crashes) are not something even the most well-organized streetcar operation can control,” Lipski said.

Along with hands-on training on the bus, Milwaukee’s rescue teams are also getting familiar with the two streetcars already here.

Lt. Poliak recently walked members of the city’s Heavy Urban Rescue Team up and down one of the new streetcars. He showed them how to gain emergency access to the vehicle and spots where they could lift it.

The team also knows how to quickly power down The Hop.

"We have direct access to the overall power system right now. Right now, real time. It will take me about 30 seconds and I can kill power to every inch of energized electrical line in the system,” Lipski said.

More than 100 fire and police personnel are already trained. More will be soon and mandated drills will happen this summer.

The public can also expect to see a ramped up initiative in the coming weeks training drivers and pedestrians on how to deal with the streetcar.

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