Maine Keeps Explosives Trucks Under Surveillance
The State of Maine’s dozen fire inspectors ride herd on explosives trucks, last year rolling up 20,266 miles shepherding their charges over Maine’s roads.
According to Joseph A. P. Flynn, director of the fire prevention bureau in the State Insurance Department, Maine is the only state requiring, as a safety measure, that explosives always be escorted over its highways.
Mr. Flynn gets 12 hours notice of the scheduled arrival at the Maine border of all trucks entering the State with dynamite or ammunition for the big air bases in Aroostook County, and for the construction jobs like the Maine Turnpike Extension. With the step-up in defense, Flynn and his men are getting more and more “ammo” jobs—60 tons so far this year compared with 55 tons in all for 1954.
Last year’s total tonnage, escorted by the fire inspectors, was over 1,000 tons or 2,142,130 pounds, to be exact. And in the five years that the Maine inspectors have been riding escort to the big red explosives trucks, bearing red flags and flashing red lights, there never has been an explosion. The nearest they ever came to it was when a dynamite truck caught fire near Lewiston. Fortunately, the inspectors had quick help from the Lewiston Fire Department and put the fire out before it reached the truck body.
But this good record hasn’t made the inspectors careless. The first thing they do on picking up an explosives truck or trucks, is to check the tires, brakes, lights, mechanical equipment and stowage of the cargo. Nor is the driver of the vehicle overlooked.
Although there’s no danger from dynamite if its properly stowed, according to Flynn, there is big hazard in fire. So, before starting out, each inspector takes from the truck drivers all cigarettes or matches—just in case.
Another precaution is to check the tires every two hours, or oftener. With dual wheels one tire may go flat without the driver realizing it, as the other one will hold up the load alone. But friction can set fire to the flat tire.
Four of the blow-ups on ammunition trucks in other states in 1953 were caused by flat tires that set the truck or trailer abloze.
According to Flynn most of the drivers are very cooperative, “but occasionally,” he said, “we run across a ‘cowboy’.” Once Flynn encountered a driver who was a lot more dangerous than a “cowboy.’’
“I was escorting this truck myself,” said Flynn, “and noticed that the driver was stopping pretty often. So I got out of my car and asked him why. “‘Oh, he told me,’ “’I’m a diabetic and have to stop and take my insulin’.”
When the I. C. C. had Flynn’s report of this incident, the driver was ruled off the road.
Convoying explosives trucks is a slow job. The vehicles are kept down to 35 miles an hour, paced by an inspector riding 150 feet ahead. If there are more than one truck in the convoy, the units are kept 500 feet apart, and another inspector rides behind. Insofar as possible the explosives convoys avoid cities and towns altogether. They generally use back roads, traveling at night as much as possible to avoid traffic.