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Meet Chris Rhoads, your 2013 FRA Inspector of the Year

Meet Chris Rhoads, your 2013 FRA Inspector of the Year

For Chris Rhoads – FRA’s Inspector of the Year in 2013 – rail safety is more than a profession. It’s a way of life.

“You take on this job to ensure safety for the general public, but also the railroad employees themselves,” says Rhoads, who gladly trains new State and Federal track inspectors and even volunteers with our rail safety education partner Operation Lifesaver.

Based in Pryor, Oklahoma in FRA’s Region 5, Rhoads specializes in inspecting railroad tracks and structures to ensure compliance with Federal regulations. But last May, while on assignment in Arkansas, Rhodes’ commitment to safety took on new meaning when a massive tornado swept through the area and caused massive flooding.

As rain poured down and the wind howled, Rhoads’ focus shifted from inspecting track to protecting the railroad and a community he had gotten to know well back when he worked for Kansas City Southern Railway. 

Photo of Chris Rhoads accepting his award
Railroad Safety Inspector (Track) Chris Rhoads, center, accepting his Inspector of the Year Award with FRA staff. He was joined by his wife, Vicky, to his right.

Rhoads shared his story with FRA staff recently after accepting his award. Below is an adaptation of his speech:

I believe my position with the FRA is not just a job to earn a weekly salary but a worthwhile endeavor to establish safety in the rail industry.

I keep a positive working relationship with the railroads, and they know me as a person that will help in any way that is needed.  While this is normally actions applied during regular work conditions, it also became an activity during a terrible event in 2013. 

The events that took place on May 31, 2013 were nothing short of Biblical proportion. 

I remember calling a Union Pacific Roadmaster that afternoon and hearing the sound of the tornado sirens in the background and knowing that he, his wife, and their newborn child were possibly in the path of the tornado. I went the next day, Saturday, on my day off, to see if my assistance was needed in any way.

I helped clear up areas damaged by the tornados in areas of the railroad and also assisted in filling sandbags for protecting nearby homes from the expected rising floodwaters of the Fourche Lefave River. 

Later, as the floodwaters rose, I assisted in the removal of some citizens stranded in their homes.  The tornados and storms developed into torrential rains across the Ouachita Mountains of Western Arkansas, at times dropping as much as a foot of rain within an hour. That night, I learned I had lost a close friend whom I had known for many years, Arkansas Wildlife Officer Joel Campora.

Joel and Scott County Sheriff Cody Carpenter had drowned while assisting victims of an overnight flash flood. They had responded by boat to a 911 call at a home in the flooded area along the river. They both exited the boat and entered the home to assist two female victims who were trapped inside. At some point the officers, victims, and boat were swept away by the rising water.

The events of this day changed my life, and I think have made me a better FRA Track Inspector as a result. 

I now understand how quickly an accident can occur even when you think you are properly trained and have everything under control. 

I will continue to strive to make the railroads in my area of responsibility as safe as I possibly can for the safety of both railroad employees and the public. 

I thank you very much for this award and believe that many others were equally deserving of it.  I just get to be the one standing before you.  I am happy to accept this award in honor of all FRA Track Inspectors.  Thank you and God bless. 

The FRA’s mission to enable the safe, reliable, and efficient movement of people and goods for a strong America, now and in the future.

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