Kentucky: Railcars Carrying Hazmats Derail, Burn for 36 Hours

Twenty-five cars of an 80-car CSX freight train enroute from Birmingham, AL, to Louisville, KY, derailed in the community of Brooks, in Bullitt County, KY, on Jan. 16, 2007. This incident would become the largest railroad hazardous materials incident on a CSX line in Kentucky and, at the time, the...


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Twenty-five cars of an 80-car CSX freight train enroute from Birmingham, AL, to Louisville, KY, derailed in the community of Brooks, in Bullitt County, KY, on Jan. 16, 2007. This incident would become the largest railroad hazardous materials incident on a CSX line in Kentucky and, at the time, the third-largest hazmat incident on a CSX line in North America.

Thirteen of the 25 derailed cars contained various hazardous materials, some of which were immediately engulfed in fire. The ensuing fire burned for 36 hours before 218 firefighters from 16 departments could extinguish it. In all, more than 600 emergency response personnel from 49 local, state and federal agencies were involved in the incident. Firefighters prevented the fire from spreading to nearby residential and commercial structures and kept the tank cars cool enough to prevent any "BLEVEs" (boiling liquid expanding vapor explosions). The two-person train crew escaped unharmed. Interstate 65 was closed for eight miles in both directions for 12 hours and one local highway was closed for 15 days. Thirty-five people living in the immediate area were displaced for approximately six weeks. (This was the second hazardous materials incident involving a train in two days in Kentucky. On Jan. 15, four CSX railcars coasted nearly 20 miles before running into two parked locomotives in Irvine. The crash caused a spill and fire involving a tank car of butyl acetate, a flammable solvent. More than 300 employees of nearby businesses were evacuated for two days.)

The hazardous materials involved in the Brooks derailment included: four tank cars of butadiene; one tank car of chlorine; one tank car of methyl ethyl ketone; one tank car of ethoxylated alcohol; two tank cars of cyclohexane; one tank car of hydraulic fluid; one tank car of non-hazardous fatty alcohol and two tank cars of maleic anhydride. There were also three box cars carrying wood and paper products and two hopper cars carrying plastic pellets involved in the fire.

The Zoneton Fire District was dispatched at 8:46 A.M. for the derailment and fire at Hubber Station and Route 1020. Engines 8131, 8132 and 8134 and Truck 8151 responded with a total of 22 firefighters under the command of Chief Robert Orkies. At 8:51, Orkies requested mutual aid from the Okolona Fire Department, which sent Engines 8032 and 8034, Truck 8051 and Car 8003.

First-in Engine 8131 found a large fire that had spread to the highways on both sides of the railroad tracks. Highway 1020 (Coral Ridge Road) on the east side and Hubber Station Road on the west side ran parallel to the tracks. Engine 8131 laid 900 feet of supply line from a hydrant north of the incident to a position 600 feet away from the derailment on Highway 1020. The crew immediately placed the engine's deck gun into operation in an effort to cool the exposed tank cars. Truck 8151 was positioned 400 yards north of the derailment on Hubber Station Road and set up for aerial master stream operations. Engine 8132 laid 600 feet of supply line from a hydrant on Hubbard Station Road to Truck 8151. Truck 8051 approached the scene from the south on Highway 1020 and laid a 1,000-foot supply line from a hydrant on Highway 1020 to a position 700 feet away from the derailment and operated its aerial master stream.

Within the first hour, additional mutual aid was requested from Shepherdsville, Mount Washington, the Southeast Bullitt Fire Department and Louisville International Airport. Shepherdsville Fire Department Truck 9251 and its crew of five firefighters were assigned to the south side of the fire and assisted in setting up Truck 8051, then attempted to control the flammable liquid fire running in the ditch from the north to the south. Two handlines were placed into operation from Truck 9251. Two tankers from the Mount Washington Fire Department were staged on the north side of the fire and tankers from the Southeast Bullitt Fire Department were staged on the south side, all for possible shuttle operations. A crash-fire-rescue (CFR) truck with a crew of two responded from the airport and was staged north of the derailment.

An emergency operations center (EOC) was set up at the Zoneton Fire Department and a unified command system was put into place. Orkies was identified as the overall incident commander and continued to work from the EOC. A command post was established a quarter-mile from the derailment and operated by Zoneton Fire District Assistant Chief Kevin Moulton and Mount Washington Assistant Chief Chuck Miners. These two officers ran the command post on 12-hour rotating shifts. Other agencies represented at the EOC included Kentucky Emergency Management, Bullitt County Emergency Medical Services, Jewish Hospital, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Bullitt County Fiscal Court, Bullitt County Health Department, American Red Cross, CSX, Kentucky State Police, Pioneer Village Police Department, United States Department of Transportation, Kentucky Department of Transportation and Bullitt County Emergency Management Agency.

Firefighting operations continued throughout the day and night. Foam was applied at different times in an effort to control the tank car fires and to extinguish the fires in the hopper cars carrying plastic pellets. At this time, the box cars were allowed to free burn.

At 5:50 A.M. on Jan. 17, pressure on a tank car had risen, causing concern with CSX officials and command. Crews repositioned handlines west of the tanker and applied water to cool the tanker. A command briefing was held on establishing a liquid burn pit on the west side of the derailment for burning off chemicals that remained in the tank cars. With the plan approved by the State Fire Marshal, a pit was constructed and pit burning operations began at 3:40 P.M. The product from three tank cars containing butadiene was off-loaded and burned. Two rapid intervention teams were established and cooling streams were in place to protect a house and a garage 30 yards away and another building 75 yards away. The offloading and burning of products continued for most of Jan. 18.

By the following morning, all hazardous materials had been burned off or removed to safety. Firefighting operations were initiated on the box cars containing the wood and paper products. With no chemical hazards at this time, no "hot zone" was needed. Firefighters wearing structural personal protective equipment (PPE) and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) used two handlines to extinguish the fires. The contents of the cyclohexane railcar were transferred to tank trucks and removed from the scene. The tank car was then cleaned and purged.

Orkies declared the fire under control at 9:44 A.M. on Jan. 19. The next day, firefighters continued suppression operations on spot fires when they flared up. Fire department personnel also provided a rapid intervention team for CSX personnel as railcars were being prepared for dismantling and transportation off site. Decontamination facilities were also provided for the CSX personnel during this time. By Jan. 21, all fires had been extinguished. Railroad cleanup crews had moved all of the railcars to a storage area and spilled product had been removed from ditches. Contaminated soil was removed and an underground vapor-collection system was installed before the area was backfilled. Collection trenches, containment booms and vacuum trucks collected water-borne product. On Jan. 22, Zoneton firefighters picked up hose and equipment and the EOC was closed at 5:05 P.M.

Damage was estimated at $35 million. More than 4,500 tons of contaminated earth was removed from the site and 200,000 gallons of water contaminated with chemicals was removed. Over 1,000 soil and water samples were taken in the area.

Other mutual aid fire agencies that responded over the course of the incident included the Camp Taylor Fire District, Fairdale Fire District, Fern Creek Fire District, Highview Fire District, Jefferstown Fire District, Louisville Fire and Rescue, Middletown Fire District, Pleasure Ridge Park Fire District, Shelby County Fire District and Shelbyville Fire District. Other responding agencies included the Hillview Police Department, Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement, Louisville Metro Police, Shepherdsville Police Department, Rohm & Hass (a manufacturer of specialty chemicals), Louisville Metro Health Department, Louisville Metro EMS, Hillview CERT, Zoneton Fire District Ladies Auxiliary, Kentucky National Guard, National Transportation Safety Board, Transportation Safety Agency, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Kentucky Environmental Protection Agency and the Kentucky Highway Department.

The Local Emergency Planning Committee had conducted a mock drill of a train derailment in September 2006. The drill took place at almost the same location of the incident. This provided the basis for developing plans that were used during the incident.

A formal after-action review was held on Feb. 7 involving 78 personnel from the agencies that responded. It was felt that the early establishment of the incident command system was key to the successful initial response and allowed for easy transition into unified command. Life safety of civilians and firefighters was a primary concern during the incident. The response by CSX was cooperative and brought technical resources and expertise into the incident. One area that was found to need improvement was in media relations. The need for a dedicated public information officer to work with all agencies involved to gather and coordinate media releases was identified.

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