Photos and report by Rita Reith
Firefighters in Indianapolis responded to a massive tanker truck fire yesterday on Interstate 70 that left the driver of the vehicle critically injured.
The driver of the tanker made contact with a portion of the guardrail on the ramp from I465 SB to I70 E. The contact split the tank and overturned the semi, after which fire broke out.
Witnesses say the driver of the tanker got out of the truck on his own and was alert and oriented, but his clothes were on fire. Mitch Navarre, traveling on I-70, noticed the man standing next to the truck, stopped his car, and ran over to help. Mitch used his own coat to extinguish the mans clothes and cover him. The 59-year-old driver appeared to be in shock and, according to Mitch, was unable to follow his repeated pleas to move away from the burning tanker.
At that time the fire was still relatively small. Several more attempts by Mitch to prod the driver away from the tanker were unsuccessful. Suddenly, the first of two tanker explosions occurred, creating a much larger fire. This combined with more jet fuel run off forced the men to make a rapid retreat to the south side of of the bridge ramp.
As they reached the south end of the bridge they were met by another Good Samaritan, Holly McNally, who stopped her car and ran to help. Mitch, Holly and the driver made their way down the embankment where they were met by Indiana State Police Trooper Chris Hanson, who saw the accident and responded to help. Holly told firefighters that the jet fuel was literally pouring down the embankment as they retreated.
According to both of the Good Samaritans, the trooper’s efforts to access the scene quickly were definitely not easy as he expertly traversed an unusual path across the embankment to get there. After making contact, the trooper put the injured driver in his police vehicle and retrieved his own clothes from a gym bag and used them to cover the injured driver until medical help arrived.
Firefighters had difficulty accessing the scene due to the large amount of fire. The 4,000 gallons of flaming jet fuel released itself down both sides of the bridge embankment–a span of about 400 feet–creating a sort of “fire wall’ on both sides of the bridge.
First-due Indianapolis Fire Department Engine 44 reported that as they responded to the incident and traveled under the overpass they could feel the heat from the fire inside the cab of the engine. Firefighters second issue was having enough water supply on hand to get a good knock on the blaze. Without hydrants in the area, they needed to rely on the water carried in the engines (between 500 to 1,000 gallons each, depending on the apparatus) and called for tankers to bring water to the scene. Command ordered three tankers. They used all available water and took about 40 minutes to completely extinguish the blaze. Hazmat crews did what they could to contain the run off with absorbents and later turned the scene over to Marion County Health Department.
No foam was used to extinguish the fire. No firefighters was injured. The driver was transported in critical condition.
RITA L. REITH is a battalion chief with the Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD) and serves as the agency’s public information officer.