Alabama: Freight Train Vs. Propane Tanker Outside Falkville

An accident involving a train and a propane tanker truck occurred on Feb. 19, 2007, outside Falkville, AL. The size-up: the truck driver was trapped in his vehicle, fire was impinging on the truck's 3,000-gallon tank of propane, railcars were exposed to the fire and hazardous materials were five...


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An accident involving a train and a propane tanker truck occurred on Feb. 19, 2007, outside Falkville, AL. The size-up: the truck driver was trapped in his vehicle, fire was impinging on the truck's 3,000-gallon tank of propane, railcars were exposed to the fire and hazardous materials were five railcars away from the fire.

The Falkville Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to the accident at 11:20 A.M. The 55-car train was enroute from Indianapolis, IN, to Birmingham, AL. None of the railcars derailed and the train was moved away from the area of the fire. Use of the incident command system and requesting adequate mutual aid resulted in a successful outcome to the incident and no injuries to firefighters.

The fire department responded with Engine 133 and six firefighters under the command of Chief Eric Sawyer. Engine 131 responded three minutes later as it was refueling from a previous fire call. Sawyer immediately called the dispatch center to notify Cullman County dispatch to have the Vinemont-Providence Fire Department respond. Sawyer also requested that the Decatur Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team be placed on standby. Vinemont-Providence responded with Engine 131 and seven firefighters.

Upon arrival, Sawyer saw the pinned truck driver and the threat from the fire, so he requested the Decatur hazmat team to respond to scene. No evacuations were necessary as the nearest residents were a half-mile away.

Initial operations were to try and rescue the truck driver. Engine 133's crew advanced two handlines to the wreckage in an effort to rescue the driver, but it was quickly determined that the driver was deceased. Firefighters and apparatus were moved out of the "hot zone" to an area approximately 400 feet away. A supply line was laid to portable master stream device directed at the wreckage and supplied by Falkville Engine 133.

Due to the remoteness of the area, only one hydrant was available. The flow on this hydrant was limited to 350 gpm. Realizing that this hydrant would not produce the necessary flow of water, Sawyer requested additional mutual aid to establish a tanker shuttle. A 1,500-gallon and a 2,100-gallon portable tank were set up for Falkville Engine 133 and Vinemont Engine 131 to draft from. Tankers traveled five miles to reach additional hydrants.

Mutual aid apparatus and manpower was requested from the Hartselle Fire Department and the Battleground, Bethel Gum Pond, Brindlee Mountain, Cotaco, Danville, Ebenezer, Eva, Fairview, Flint, Florette, Lacey Springs, Massey, Neel, Oak Ridge, Oden Ridge, Priceville, Pumpkin Center, Rock Creek, Sardis, Somerville, Trimble, Trinity and West Point volunteer fire departments. Hartselle covered Falkville's response area. Support agencies that responded included Morgan County and Cullman County Emergency Management Agencies, Morgan County Forestry, Morgan County Road Commission District 3 for fuel, Morgan County Coroner, Morgan County Rescue Squad for lighting, the American Red Cross for food, Alabama Gas Board was on scene for advice, the Alabama Fire Marshall Office, Falkville Police Department and Morgan County Sheriffs Office provided traffic control. The Falkville Police Department and Morgan County Sheriff's Office provided traffic control during the incident. The Federal Aviation Administration restricted the air space for a five-mile radius around the incident. Morgan County 911 responded to the scene and provided radio patches as departments operated on different frequencies on three bands. The Trinity Volunteer Fire Department sent its command and rehab trailer to the incident and provided all rehab services.

In an effort to prevent further explosions, firefighters operated the master stream and several handlines to cool the propane tank. The driver of the truck was trapped underneath the wreckage and could not be removed until the fire was extinguished. The propane fire ignited a wildfire that consumed eight acres.

Sawyer declared the fire under control at 1:37 A.M. on Feb. 20. Mutual aid units were released at 2:30 A.M., and Falkville units returned to station at 4:08 A.M.

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