Pre-Fire Plan Followed in Setting Up Pumper Relay for Superhighway Fire
Photos by John D. Peige
Establishment of a water supply was attained in accordance with a pre-fire plan by the Beltsville, Md., Fire Department when a truckload of tires burst into flame after a crash with a moving van on 1-95, one of the most heavily traveled superhighways in the nation.
The accident occurred last July 21 in the southbound lanes of 1-95 just north of 1-495 (Washington, D.C., Capital Beltway) in Beltsville, Md.
A moving van semi-trailer crammed full with 24,000 pounds of furniture representing the household furnishings of five families from the New York-New Jersey area was traveling southbound on 1-95 toward Richmond, Va. The owner-operator had spent the day loading the furniture with his helper and was heading to his own home before departing for the West Coast the next day. As the big rig neared the 1-495 interchange, the operator became weary and pulled over to the shoulder to rest.
Another 18-wheeler also was heading south on 1-95 toward Richmond. It, too, was fully loaded, carrying 1229 radial tires. As this rig was about to pass the parked moving van, the right front tire blew out. The driver fought for control, but the rig jackknifed and sideswiped the moving van.
As a result of the collision, both fuel tanks ruptured and approximately 200 gallons of flaming diesel fuel surrounded the rigs. Ignition occurred so quickly that before the jackknifed rig had stopped, flames were shooting from under the dash. Upon coming to a stop, the driver of this rig immediately jumped out of the burning cab and escaped with minor injuries.
Meanwhile, the two occupants of the moving van, asleep in the sleeper section of the cab, were jolted awake by the collision. Crawling out of the sleeper compartment, they were greeted by a wall of flame extending up both the left side and front of the cab. As the flames began to enter the cab through a gash in the left door, both occupants scrambled to safety through the undamaged right door.
Prince George’s County Fire Communications received a call at 1:18 a.m. reporting a signal 9-1 (personal injury accident) involving some sort of trailer. At 1:19 a.m., Beltsville Engine 411, Ambulance 419 and Berwyn Heights Squad 14 were dispatched.
Full box requested
Approaching the scene, Ambulance 419, the first responding unit, noticed an orange glow in the night sky and requested an additional engine company. Reaching the scene less than a minute later, Ambulance 419 requested a full box assignment. At 1:25 a.m., Box 41-6 was transmitted, dispatching Beltsville Engines 412, 312, Branchville Engine 112, Hillandale Engine 121 (Montgomery County), Beltsville Truck 31 and College Park Truck 12.
The jackknifed rig had come to a stop in an upright position in the right lane of 1-95, adjacent to and slightly in front of the moving van. Arriving on the scene, Engine 411 took a forward position and advanced two 1 1/2-inch lines to the right side of the burning rigs. Concentrating on the severe fire exposure to the sleeper cab, the engine crew was able to control the fire in this area until it was determined that the cab’s occupants had gotten out and there was no life hazard. The crew then began fire control operations.
Upon his arrival, Beltsville Deputy Chief Joseph Emmanual found the jackknifed rig well involved. Establishing command, he immediately recognized the critical need to obtain enough resources to provide a temporary water supply for containment until an adequate water source could be developed for extinguishment. At 1:27 a.m., he requested additional engine companies from Greenbelt and College Park.
Uses pre-fire plan
Consulting a pre-fire plan for water supply on this section of 1-95, Emmanual saw that the closest hydrant to the accident was on Cherry Hill Road. He ordered Engine 412 to dump its tank water into Engine 411 and then lay a 3-inch supply line from 411 to the Cherry Hill Road Bridge overpass.
By radio, he then directed the responding Greenbelt and College Park pumpers to establish a water supply from the Cherry Hill Road hydrants, some 700 feet west of the bridge overpass. College Park Engine 122 laid a 3-inch supply line from this hydrant to a position on the bridge directly over the southbound lanes of 1-95. A 3-inch supply line was then dropped over the bridge to Engine 412, positioned below.
While this operation was taking place, the second College Park pumper, Engine 121, reverse laid another 3-inch supply line from Engine 122 to the hydrant, which was now being pumped by Greenbelt Engine 355.
Tank water used first
It is estimated that it took 10 minutes to develop this water supply. During this time, Emmanual fought a delaying action with tank water from the five pumpers at the accident scene. He did not have the option of calling for tankers since the closest tanker was 15 minutes away from this metropolitan section of the county.
Emmanual also requested foam units, which were dispatched from College Park and Hillandale at 1:35 a.m. Both protein and AFFF foams were used to achieve extinguishment.
It took about 45 minutes to bring the fire under control, although the southbound lanes of 1-95 remained closed for six hours during overhaul and removal operations. The operator of the moving van was issued a summons by the Maryland State Police for illegally stopping on an interstate highway.
Damage to both rigs and the contents was initially estimated at $250,000. In addition, a 70-foot section of the 1-95 roadbed, damaged by burning rubber, will have to be replaced at an estimated cost of $10,000.