Liquid fuel transport accidents serve as safety reminders

By Kris Bevill | June 03, 2009
Report posted June 17, 2009, at 9:21 a.m. CST

Two recent incidents involving tanker trucks hauling liquid fuels should serve as a reminder to focus attention to safety procedures and protocols, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.

On June 13, a large tanker truck hauling an unknown combination of liquid fuels overturned at the intersection of Interstate 710 and State Route 91 in Long Beach, Calif. and exploded into what witnesses said was a "huge fireball." The Long Beach Fire Department was the primary response unit and was assisted by units from the Compton Fire Department and the L.A. County Fire Department, according to LBFD public information officer Captain Jackawa Jackson. While a responsible party at the scene of fire reported that the tanker was hauling ethanol, Jackson said further research has led to uncertainty as to the contents of the truck's tank. "It's very likely it could have been a mixed load," he said. "We really don't know exactly. If it was strictly ethanol, it would have been a little bit cleaner burning." Jackson said fire department crews at the scene took vapor samples to determine their flammability, but were not able to determine from the samples what liquids were present.

Jackson said the LBFD has not received specific ethanol fire response training but members have been trained in flammable liquids response and approach an ethanol fire with the same methods used for any other alcohol or water-soluble flammable liquids fire. This particular fire was a challenge to extinguish, according to Jackson, because of its size. When crews arrived at the scene, they discovered that the tanker had come to rest on its side and had spilled fuel into a nearby storm drainage system, which was pumping fuel into a storage reservoir. "It was basically pumping the flaming fuel up into itself, so you had a very large area of fire," Jackson said. "That was the primary difficulty - the sheer amount of fire and making sure we had enough resources—enough foam, enough water—to affect the knockdown."

The fire was extinguished in 45 minutes. The driver of the tanker died at the scene.

In a lesser incident, a tanker truck hauling ethanol through Cabarrus County, North Carolina, overturned on June 12 and spilled its contents. No one was hurt in the incident.

RFA Communications Director Matt Hartwig said these incidents are a reminder that while all accidents can't be avoided, many can be prevented. "Safety is the top priority of this industry and a responsibility it takes very seriously," he said. The RFA, along with the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and various other groups previously formed the Ethanol Emergency Response Coalition to serve as a clearinghouse for safety information as related to ethanol. For more information, visit