Gas Trailer Accident Creates Washington Freeway Emergency

Gas Trailer Accident Creates Washington Freeway Emergency

Six wreckers were needed to right LPG tank. Boom cables of wrecker in right foreground snapped and boom collapsed on its rest. Firemen wet down tank during lifting operations to prevent sparks

McKewen Studio photo


AS A PROPANE gas trailer traveled down the slight grade of a 360-degree access road to the U. S. Highway 99 Freeway, south of Tacoma, Wash., the fifth wheel assembly, which was welded to the trailer, broke loose. Running free from the tractor, the trailer’s dolly wheels struck a traffic island, causing the trailer to roll over three-quarters of a turn at 9:43 a.m., December 5, 1959.

Although the tank and trailer were considerably damaged, the tank did not rupture. A passing motorist notified the Washington State Patrol, which in turn notified the Lakewood Fire Department. Chief Bruce White dispatched men and equipment.

When the Lakewood department arrived on the scene, the state police were routing traffic onto the former Highway 99. The area was clear of persons and motor vehicles, and three small wreckers had been called.

The tank was loaded to 85 per cent capacity with 8,000 gallons of LPG. First thought of the fire fighters was to transfer the LPG to another tanker. However, this was not feasible as the only outlets were on the bottom of the tank and the trailer was not upright. The front end was much lower than the rear where the outlets are located. It was evident that the trailer would have to be righted before any appreciable amount of LPG could be transferred. The Washington State Patrol therefore put out a call for two larger wreckers.

All five wreckers, however, proved unequal to the job. Their operators insisted, nevertheless, that they could do the job if given enough time. Since the wreckers were not all from the same company, there was considerable confusion as each operator had his own idea of how the job should be done.

After three hours of fruitless efforts and equipment failures, a sixth wrecker was put to work. With the three big wreckers lifting and the three smaller ones holding to prevent the trailer from rolling over too far, the trailer was set on its wheels. The front end was then blocked up in a level position. It was approximately 2:30 p.m. when this was accomplished after four hours and 45 minutes of work.

During the efforts to right the trailer, the cables holding the boom of one of the larger wreckers broke, and the boom fell onto its rest. Had the boom been at an angle to its rest, it would have struck the tank when the cables failed and the situation could have been made worse.

The fire fighters checked the rigging each time it was set to make sure the operators were not putting pressure or strain on the tanker’s piping. The fire fighters feared the cables or chains might damage the piping, and the operators were just as sure they would not. The fire fighters won these discussions. Facing the task of transferring the LPG after the tank was righted, they insisted that all vapor and liquid lines must remain undamaged. After each attempt to raise the trailer, they inspected the tank for leaks.

All during the lifting operations, four 1½-inch and two 1-inch water fog lines were operated. The fog was directed toward the surfaces in contact with the pavement to minimize the possibility of sparks. No hydrants were available for 2,500 feet, and it would have been necessary to lay the lines across the detour route to use these. A trailer was finally obtained at 3 p.m. It required two hours to transfer the LPG to this vehicle.

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