After this gasoline tanker fire, the author has a new awareness about preparing for major hazardous materials incidents.

The following is an incident that happened in a community where the fire departments thought they were prepared for a major hazardous materials incident. Although the operation was a success, it became obvious that more training and planning could have been given in this area.

At midnight last June 17, the driver of a gasoline tanker fell asleep at the wheel while still a mile from his destination. The road was a wooded area of Illinois Route 45 in an unincorporated area of Willow Springs. Heavy rains had saturated the woods the whole week prior to the crash, ‘t was a cool, clear night with the temperature at about 55 degrees and a light south wind at 5 mph

Following about 200 feet behind the 7800-gallon tanker was Daniel Marovich, an off-duty Calumet Park, III., policeman and truck mechanic. He stated that the truck was going into a curve when it tipped over. The tank struck the pavement and slid approximately 150 feet. The tank ripped open and friction sparks ignited the spilled gasoline.

The fire at first was small and confined to the tank portion only. The driver was still in the wrecked cab when Marovich stopped his car. After about a minute, the truck driver began to crawl out of the wrecked cab. At this point, Marovich picked him up and drove him to the justice Police Department a mile away. He was then taken to LaGrange Memorial Hospital, where he was treated for minor abrasions, contusions and then released.

Two police officers from the Hickory Hills Police Department arrived on the scene. They were responsible for clearing out all stopped traffic and curious onlookers. This included two chemical tank trucks, which had to be backed up two blocks to the nearest intersection to be rerouted.

The first call to the Willow Springs Volunteer Fire Department was received five minutes after midnight. At this same time, Chief Robert Rasch from the Roberts Park Fire Protection District passed by and stopped. Because the accident occurred in an unincorporated area covered by both departments, Rasch requested his department to respond, too. Rasch is the district fire marshal of this area. He also requested a foam unit from the North Palos Fire Protection District, a bordering department.

Fire fighters approach the overturned and burning truck through a sea of foam.

Photo by Don Fontana, fire commissioner/ photographer, Roberts Park Fire Depart.

Within two minutes, Roberts Park Squad 304 arrived on the scene. By this time the tanker was totally involved. Squad 304 carries 500 gallons of water, 10 gallons of protein foam and 7 gallons of high expansion foam. Roberts Park Engine 303, a 1000-gpm pumper, and Willow Springs Engine 602, a 500-gpm pumper, were also responding, along with Willow Springs’ Tanker 601, which carries 2700 gallons of water. At 12:09 a.m., Rasch requested a mutual-aid box alarm, which senf engines from the towns of justice, Bridgeview, Bedford Park and Burbank.

The obvious problems were twofold: lack of water and the proper foam.

There were no hydrants in the immediate area. Of the four hydrants used, one was ¾ mile to the southeast, two were 1 mile to the southwest and the fourth was 1 ½ miles to the northwest. Rasch called for a water shuttle to be put into operation. Roberts Park Squad 304 was positioned 350 feet south of the crash with a 3-inch attack line to cool the tank. Roberts Park Engine 303 dropped a 3-inch line to feed Squad 304 and dropped three intake lines for all engines coming from the two distant hydrants to the south. Willow Springs Engine 602 came in from the north and went to work just south of the wreck. It dropped a 2 ½ -inch and a 1 ½ -inch attack line, and a booster line to protect the men on the hand lines. Tanker 601 fed 602 from the north and became the stationary recipient for all the engines coming from the hydrant to the north.

The second problem was the immediate shortage of the proper foam. It is a wellknown fire fighting tactic to use foam on a hydrocarbon fire. But how much is needed, and what is the best kind to use? The first apparatus on the scene, Roberts Park Squad 304, carried 17 gallons of protein and high expansion foam — not much against 7800 gallons of gasoline. Therefore, their primary objective was to lay a 3-inch attack line to cool the tank.

The special call by Rasch for North Palos’ foam unit brought an additional 125 gallons of high expansion foam to the scene. The foam unit set up a foam generator at the south end of the fire. Justice’s Engine 553 laid a foam hand line at the north end of the crash to stop the running, burning gasoline. High expansion foam was also used from this nozzle. Another high expansion hand line was brought in from the west, perpendicular to the burning tank. Within one hour and 10 minutes, the fire was extinguished.

Two things must be considered here if we are going to learn anything from our experiences. First, when attacking a hydrocarbon fire, the best type of foam to use is either a fluoroprotein foam on an aqueous film-forming foam because of its quick cooling effect. Second, high expansion foam should not be used with any other types of foam. It has a tendency to shorten the life of other types of foam because of its incompatibility.

What actually happened was, foam was being taken off any apparatus it could be found on, regardless of the type of foam or concentrate. This led to a less effective foam production.

The total amount of foam used was 272 gallons. This included protein, high expansion, AFFF and ATC concentrate. According to the formula for combating a hydrocarbon fire using AFFF, for 16,800 square feet (the tanker fire was 16,520 square feet – 430 X 66 feet), it is necessary to use 70 gallons of AFFF. ironically, out of the 272 gallons of the various types of foam used, 70 gallons were AFFF!

It is imperative that we know and understand the different types of foam and how and when to use them. We must come to realize that all fire fighting foams have individual places in our tactical operations.

The operation had some very fortunate conditions. First off, the area had been saturated the week prior to the crash with heavy rainfall. The closest residential buildings were a half-mile to the east. If the wind had been stronger, and the wood drier, these homes could have been threatened by the blaze.

Second, the rescue was not necessary. The driver escaped, and there were no other victims involved who needed to be rescued.

Third, there were no injuries to fire, police or rescue personnel. A total of 87 emergency personnel were used. Also, 27 pieces of apparatus were used and no equipment was damaged. A total of 39,150 gallons of water from four hydrants was used to extinguish the fire in 70 minutes, saving 3000 gallons of gasoline.

Could it have gone better? Was the operation a success? Did we learn anything from this experience? The answer to each of these questions is, obviously, yes.

If we are honest with ourselves and look at our operations from a training standpoint, we can always find room for improvement. We must leam to critique our operations with an open mind.

If we don’t learn anything from our operations on a daily basis, we are fools. We must learn to look at our operations, tactics, training, planning and ourselves, and search for the things we can make better. This is what training is all about.

In looking back at this hazardous materials incident, there are many questions to be concerned with for the future. Would the situation have changed if the driver had been trapped? What if the truck had carried propane, chlorine or pesticides? What if the trees and ground were dry? Would we have been so successful?

The key to planning is awareness – being aware of the potential problems and situations that we may face on a daily basis, and aware of our evacuation procedures, tactical approaches and mutual-aid agreements.

If we are going to take the hazardous materials problem seriously, we must institute training programs that are aware of the potential problems. We train for the “big” incident. And we must critique our operations on the fire scene and on the training ground.

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