Yasmine Ali

Dec 14, 2022

Walk Through Fire

The Train Disaster That Changed America

Citadel Press 2023

The first book to examine the rarely-acknowledged Waverly Train Disaster of 1978 - the catastrophic accident that changed America forever and led to the formation of FEMA.

Coinciding with the 45th anniversary of the event, Walk Through Fire: The Train Disaster That Changed America (Citadel Press, 2023) is a tribute to the first responders, as well as an examination of the strengths and vulnerabilities in rural America. On the night of February 22, 1978, a devastating freight train derailment drastically altered Waverly, Tennessee, and its place in history. This was one of the worst train explosions of the twentieth century, killing 16 people, injuring hundreds more, and causing millions of dollars in damage. What could have been dismissed as a single community's terrible misfortune instead became the catalyst for radical change, including the formation of FEMA, much-needed reforms in emergency response training, and the creation and enforcement of national and state safety regulations. Response to the disaster reshaped American infrastructure and laid the groundwork for the future of emergency management and disaster relief . . . and yet most Americans have never heard of Waverly. 

Dr. Yasmine S. Ali, an award-winning medical writer and Waverly native, sets out to change this in Walk Through Fire, drawing from over a decade of meticulous research and interviews with survivors, first responders, and other firsthand accounts, including those of her own parents, first-generation Americans who were on call at the local hospital that treated the victims. Ali weaves a compelling narrative of small-town tragedy set against the broader backdrop of U.S. railroad history, rural healthcare, and other elements of American infrastructure that played a part in the creation--and the aftermath--of the Disaster. A tribute to resiliency and a call to action, Walk Through Fire tells the harrowing story of the Waverly Train Disaster from the perspectives of those who survived it, and those who still feel its impact today, illuminating how much a nation still has to learn from one small town in Tennessee.

Listen to more episodes on:

Your Host

Nathan Moore

Nathan Moore's NBN podcasts are dedicated to History, Literature, and Writing.

Learn More

Also Hosted By Nathan Moore