Grand Rapids Firemen Avert Disaster
Fast work by firemen, aided by police, railroad and other forces, when eighteen freight cars including several gasolineloaded tankers of a 49-car N. V. C. freight train crashed into seven other freight cars in Southwestern Grand Rapids, Jan. 5, 1948, prevented a possible large-scale disaster.
Telephone notification of the crash was received by the fire department alarm office at 8:17 A.M., and Engine 12 dispatched to the scene. One minute later. Box 56-15 was sounded, bringing Pumper 10, Ladder 10, District Chief Ralph Long. Police Department officers, police and private ambulances, gas company service truck, Chief Inspector J. D. Hoogesteger and Lt. A. Rigney of the Fire Inspection Bureau.
Fire Chief Frank H. Burns was notified over fire and police radio by District Chief Long of the fact that in the wreck one gasoline tank car had been punctured, and approximately 5,000 gallons of gasoline had spilled onto the ground and found its way by grade into a nearby storm sewer catch-basin and there was imminent danger of explosions.
Firemen and equipment were ordered to stand-by as long as any hazard existed; two lines, one charged, were laid to the location of the gasoline cars and small lines placed to control some small fires around the wreckage of the locomotive which had stopped at the Burton street crossing.
Police officers, directed by Lt. Ford kept spectators well away from the danger zone of gasoline and prohibited smoking in the vicinity. Fifty signs reading “No Smoking or Open Flame Allowed by Order of the Department of Public Safety Fire Inspection Bureau” were posted all around the danger area and Capt. Hoogesteger and other firemen sped to all houses in the area and extinguished the furnace and stove fires and advised occupants to leave. Police, meanwhile roped off the zone.
At the request of Chief Burns, who took personal charge at headquarters, radio stations WOOD and WIAV broadcast warnings to all residents in the vicinity to take precautions, and notify the department of gasoline odors. Three fire cars were stationed at the scene at all times to answer radio calls and investigate such reports of odors. At least ten such calls were answered and safety measures taken, which ranged from stopping up sewers with wet blankets and opening basement windows, to ordering complete evacuation of premises.
Chief Ralph Long was in charge of safety work at the wreck and the coordination of emergency forces. He directed that a hose stream be run into the sewer into which the gasoline had flowed, to help flood the gasoline down toward the sewage outlet into Grand River.
At the request of the fire department, the gas company sent an explosion meter to the scene which clearly defined the area from which all fires or sparks had to be excluded. The Red Cross stood by, ready to activate its disaster plan if needed. City highway trucks were put to work clearing snow from the area and spreading sand so that gasoline tanktrucks could reach the wrecked tank cars and pump out the remaining gasoline. A city heavy-duty automobile wrecker also assisted in clearing the way to the gasoline tank cars.
Meanwhile, Chief Long had secured the aid of the City Service Gasoline Bulk Plant, nearby, to assist in removing the gas from the badly ruptured tank cars. Once the contents were pumped below the level from which they would leak, trucks and pumps from the Sun Oil Co., to whom the gasoline was consigned, removed all the remaining gasoline from the three tankers (some 30,000 gallons). Railroad wrecking crews were kept from the area until all danger of ignition of fumes had passed, and water streams were directed at the exhaust of the tank trucks which had run in near the wrecked tankers.
Fire apparatus remained until all gasoline had been removed from the tankers and the latter filled with water from fire hydrants. This was about 2:30 A M the following day, Jan. 6. Water, also, was kept running into the sewers until that time and members of the Inspection Bureau were busy during the 6th making checks on reported fumes and re-inspecting houses where trouble had been originally reported. The fire department “all clear” was sounded at 2:30 P.M., Jan. 6, and the public notified by public broadcast stations and the press that the danger was past.