Ten County Fire Companies Fight Railroad Crash Fire
On the night of May 10, 1952, the Town of College Park, Md., (ten miles north of Washington, D. C., and the home of the Maryland Fire School) was treated to a spectacular freight train derailment and fire, which taxed the combined efforts of many volunteer fire fighters.
The center sill of the 37th car of a 97-car B. & O. freight train broke, dropping on the rails, tearing up about 400 feet of track and derailing 21 cars.
Two cars of naphtha and one car of petroleum started to burn immediately and it required ten Prince Georges County (Md.) fire companies, all volunteers, over five hours to control the resulting blaze.
Five and one-half tons of chemical foam were required before the blaze was controlled. After the foam supply was exhausted, fog streams were resorted to and it took approximately seven hours before the last flames were extinguished.
Accordingly to Fire Chief Donald S. Kimball, of the Branchville Volunteer Fire Company No. 1, the officer in charge, it was an extremely difficult fire to fight. The cars were piled one upon another, and it was impossible for either foam or fog to completely blanket or smother the burning petroleum and naphtha. After five hours, the fire was finally beaten down, then the liquids, escaping from the punctured cars, were flushed into a lake, which bordered the wreck, by fog and hose streams.
The schooling given the fire fighters of the area call for using cither fog or foam to fight large oil fires. But it was difficult to use either with full effect in this instance, according to Chief Kimball, because of the stacked-up condition of the wreckage. The extinguishing agents could not be brought to bear on the fire under the cars, and in inaccessible places.
After the fire was finally knocked out, it was necessary to keep numerous hose streams on the wrecked cars to run the oil from the railroad roadbed into the adjoining lake.
Four firemen were injured in the operation, none seriously. Baltimore & Ohio representatives set the loss at between $50,000 and $100,000.
Fire companies 11 and 12 were on the scene 14 hours and in the next 48 hours were recalled three times to extinguish small fires set by the wrecking company crews tools. These two units are the representative companies of College Park, Maryland.
Through mutual aid, the District of Columbia (Washington) sent a truck load of foam, the Washington Gas Light Company sent 1,450 pounds of CO2 and the Naval Ordnance Laboratory sent powdered foam.
Here is the chronology of calls:
May 10, 11:06 P.M.—Companies 11 (two pumpers and two ambulances); 12 (three pumpers and one squad); 14 (one pumper, one squad).
11:10 P.M.—7 (two pumpers); 13, (two pumpers); 1 (four pumpers); 31 (one pumper, one ambulance).
11:15 P.M.—28 (one CO2 Truck).
May 11, 12:01 A.M.—2 (two pumpers, one ladder).
12:08 A.M.—District of Columbia Foam Truck.
12:30 A.M.—Naval Ordnance Laboratory Foam Truck.
2:54 A.M. —1.0 (one pumper with foam).
3:00 A.M. — Washington Gas Light Company with 1,450 lbs. of COa.
Fill-ins were as follows: 11:38 P.M., Eng. 3 to 1; 11:45 P.M.. Eng. 9 to 17: 12:52 A.M., Eng. 8 to 2; 1:35 A.M., Eng. 5 to 13; 1:45 A.M., Eng. 22 to 11; 2:45 A.M., Ambulance 99 to fill in for ambulances 118 and 119.
There were 26 pieces of equipment and 208 men on this fire. The ladies’ auxiliaries of all participating companies served hot coffee, sandwiches and donuts throughout the night.
Acknowledgement: The editors are indebted to Chief Donald S. Kimball, Branchville Fire Co. No. 1, for the information upon which this account is based,