On The Job: ILLINOIS

On Friday, June 19, 2009, a Canadian National freight train derailed and caught fire in Cherry Valley, IL. The train consisted of two engines, one car carrying scrap metal, one empty liquid tank car, 36 empty cars, one car carrying gravel and 74 tank...


On Friday, June 19, 2009, a Canadian National freight train derailed and caught fire in Cherry Valley, IL. The train consisted of two engines, one car carrying scrap metal, one empty liquid tank car, 36 empty cars, one car carrying gravel and 74 tank cars, each containing 28,800 gallons of...


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Preiss assumed South Sector command until the arrival of Hayes at 9:30 P.M., at which time he assumed South Sector command with Battalion Chief Allen Geeser as his aide. Bystanders were initially a problem, with many trying to get close enough to take pictures with cell phones. Fire units pulling back used apparatus loudspeakers to order people to leave the area, but this action failed and the police were needed to make them leave.

Mutual Aid

Command requested mutual aid at 8:58 P.M., using MABAS and requested Cherry Valley MABAS Box 11 to the second-alarm level. This response included six engines, two ladders, two heavy rescues, four chiefs and one ambulance from area departments. Staging areas and rapid intervention teams were established on both sides of the derailment. The rapid intervention teams were Cherry Valley Rescue 541 on the north side and Byron Rescue 441 on the south side.

On the north side of the derailment, both the east and west sides of Mulford Road are heavy populated residential areas consisting of approximately 700 homes with 1,500 to 1,800 residents. Many homes were within 150 yards of the burning tank cars. Due to the close proximity of these homes, command ordered an evacuation area of a half-mile radius. On the south side, east of the road was vacant farmland and on the west side were unoccupied commercial buildings. Police began evacuating these areas at 9:10 P.M.

Binoculars were used to try to identify the product or products and the types of tank cars involved and whether they were pressurized. Due to the massive amount of fire, wreckage and darkness, it remained undetermined. The South Sector advised they had a parking lot where they could set up a ladder pipe operation to put water on a line of uninvolved tank cars still on the track to try and keep the fire from spreading to them. Command advised that once it was set up, it would have to be left unmanned. Rockford Ladder 2 was set up for aerial master stream operations and supplied by a 300-foot, five-inch line that was pumped by Rockford Engine 2 under Preiss' direction.

More Units Called

At 10 P.M., a large portion of the residential area still needed to be evacuated. Command requested MABAS Box 11 be upgraded to a sixth alarm to help police go door to door to evacuate residents. This consisted of an additional 11 engines, two ladders, two heavy rescues and eight chiefs from departments in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Staging for these units was designated at the Cherry Vale Mall, a regional shopping center, because of its large parking lot and lighting. The mall was about three miles from the incident.

At 10:20 P.M., the train crew was located and brought to the command post. The engine and forward portion of the train had come to a stop two miles east of the derailment and the crew was walking back toward the scene and setting brakes on the railcars when they were located. The train manifest showed that all the tank cars were each carrying about 28,800 gallons of ethanol. Command decided to leave the evacuation zone at a half-mile, which is the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Emergency Response Guide (ERG) recommended distance for a rail tank car involved in fire.

Command met with hazmat personnel from Cherry Valley Fire, Rockford Fire and the Canadian National Railroad to plan the best course of action. Fire department units had 400 gallons of alcohol-resistant aqueous film-forming foam (AR-AFFF) on scene and the railroad had 900 gallons enroute. It appeared the fire could involve up to 15 tank cars containing up to 30,000 gallons of ethanol each mixed with 3% gasoline. It was determined that there was not enough foam available to be brought to the scene nor could firefighters get close enough to the fire safely to apply it. Many pressure-relief valves were operating at a high pitch. It was unknown whether any valves were damaged and not operating or whether tank cars were overturned with valves buried. Several cars had already failed prior to arrival. Command decided to let the fires burn down.

At midnight, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Unified Command vehicle arrived on scene and Wilt moved the command post into this vehicle with representatives of the police and railroad. Hayes was moved to the command post as the logistics officer, and Geeser and Win-Bur-Sew Fire Chief Rob Martin were brought in and assigned to write an Incident Action Plan (IAP) for the next day and prepare for a multi-day event. LeFevre remained at the initial command post to assist North Park Fire Department Chief Steve Pearson, who was assigned as the operations chief.