Union Pacific Environmental Pro Loves the Adrenaline Rush of Serving His Community

By Chip Heard, senior manager-Hazardous Materials

Chip Heard Insights Main | MR

Chip Heard, senior manager-Hazardous Materials, inspects a tank car at a derailment in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

The fire service has been part of my family’s legacy for almost 85 years. My grandfather started his firefighting career in the late 1930s in my hometown of Forrest City, Arkansas, a small town of around 13,000 located about 100 miles east of Little Rock. Since then, my dad, brother and three uncles have all served as firefighters, and now my two sons also are career firefighters. We chose this life because we wanted to help others and serve our communities.

My fire service career started in August 1986 as a volunteer firefighter in Forrest City. One of my first classes was a new, 40-hour Hazmat Technician course offered by the Arkansas Fire Academy in Camden. I told my dad and uncle about the class and they both told me it was a dumb idea because I would come back glowing green!

Well, I passed the course and made my first hazmat entry for a leaking drum in a semi-trailer in the fall of 1987. Two years later, I joined the West Memphis Arkansas Fire Department as a career firefighter/paramedic and later as part of their Special Operations team trained in rope rescue, confined spaces and hazmat. We were the regional response team for Eastern Arkansas.

Almost all full-time firefighters have part-time jobs, so when I had the opportunity to work part time as a hazmat technician for an environmental contractor in Memphis, I took it. The job called for doing all things environmental, from highway accidents with spills, industrial response and drug lab cleanup to railroad response. In 2002, it became a full-time job, and I also became a volunteer firefighter in Marion, Arkansas, the small town where I lived. It allowed my kids to hang out at the fire station on weekends, play on the trucks and learn about helping the community – the same things I did at their age.

Chip Heard Insights Family | M

Fire service is a Heard family legacy. From left, Chip Heard, his wife Natalie, son Alex, daughter-in-law Mabry and oldest son, Ashton, attend Alex’s graduation from the Arkansas Fire Academy this past December.

I was introduced to Union Pacific’s hazmat team in 2007 at one of their tank car training classes in Longview, Texas, where I met several of the railroad’s hazmat managers. Those relationships eventually led to being hired by Union Pacific in September 2011 as a hazmat manager in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

As a kid, I learned the brotherhood of the fire service, and watched men help others, so it was instilled in me to help others when you can. At Union Pacific, I get the best of both worlds – I get to fight fire occasionally and do the job I love to do, which includes helping people from employees to first responders.

For as long as I can remember, life has always involved a scanner, pager or beeper going off, always a phone call away from dropping what I was doing and going to work. I grew up that way. I had the adrenaline rush and thrill then, and I still have it now!

I enjoy thinking my way through incidents and the processes it takes to get a job done. When you are fortunate to work with good people, it makes it easier. Responding to incidents, training first responders to prepare for what might be the worst day in their careers, transferring products and making lasting friendships across the country is what makes this a great career.

I’m thankful to able to do what I do, and I’m still not glowing green!

Editor’s Note: Union Pacific’s Chip Heard, senior manager-Hazardous Materials, was among this year’s nominees for the Association of American Railroads (AAR) 2023 Environmental Excellence Award.

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