Kentucky: Railcars Carrying Hazmats Derail, Burn for 36 Hours

In one of the nationâ??s biggest railroad hazmat incidents, 25 cars of an 80-car freight train derailed and burned in the community of Brooks.


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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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.