On The Job - California:

Chief: David R. Lugo
Personnel: 75 career firefighters
Apparatus: Four engines, one truck, three ALS ambulances
Population: 90,000
Area: 28 square miles

It was a calm spring evening in the city of Rialto, CA. All day long, medical aid calls had consistently been coming into the headquarters fire station (Station 201). Except for the medical aid calls, it was a relatively quiet shift. The crew at Station 203 was preparing for the annual Pyro-Spectacular Buyer's Fireworks Show on the grounds of the local airport.

Photo courtesy of the California Highway Patrol
First-arriving units found that a tandem-trailer gasoline tanker truck loaded with 8,800 gallons of gasoline had overturned on the entrance ramp to westbound Interstate 10 at Riverside Avenue.

At approximately 6 P.M. on April 14, 2000, a tandem-trailer gasoline tanker truck loaded with 8,800 gallons of gasoline entered the entrance ramp to westbound Interstate 10 at Riverside Avenue. The tanker, operated by Van Dyk Oil Company of Rialto, was hauling fuel for Union 76. It had just filled up at the Kinder-Morgan Energy Partners tank farm, about a half mile to the south, and was headed for fueling stations to deliver its load. The front trailer carried 4,000 gallons of gasoline and the rear trailer carried 4,800 gallons.

The westbound entrance ramp at this location has been the site of numerous rollovers in the past. As the northbound truck was turning onto the ramp, the outward-banked ramp caused a slight shift of the vehicle's load. Although the rig was only about a year old, the trailer sustained a broken rear axle leaf spring while making the turn. The resultant drop in the trailer on the right side, coupled with the outside bank of the ramp, caused it to roll 180 degrees before coming to rest on its rollover rails.

A call was received from dispatch at 6:01, notifying the Rialto Fire Department of an overturned tanker truck on the I-10 on ramp. Rialto Engine 201, Medic Ambulance 201 and Battalion Chief 804 were on the initial response. The battalion chief immediately called for Rialto's aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) unit (F203) and an additional engine to respond.

F203, housed at the city's airport fire station, features a 750-gallon tank and foam proportioner mounted on a 1987 Chevrolet truck chassis. Including five-gallon container storage, F203 has the capability of carrying 840 gallons of AFFF. Each Rialto engine carries two five-gallon containers of AFFF.

Photo courtesy of the California Highway Patrol
An immediate priority was to isolate the area by shutting down all access routes to the scene.

BC804 was the first to arrive at the scene. He positioned his command vehicle across both southbound lanes of traffic at Riverside Avenue and Valley Boulevard, approximately 300 yards north of the incident. Law enforcement was immediately requested for traffic control, and all incoming units were placed in level 1 staging, about a quarter mile to the north. Winds were blowing from the west at 2-3 mph.

As the battalion chief walked toward the incident to size-up the situation, a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer arrived at the incident. The trailer, lying on its roof and still connected to the truck, did not appear to be leaking. BC804 made contact with the CHP officer and requested a supervisor to the scene. Sergeant Tom Cunningham arrived shortly thereafter, and a unified command structure was established to manage the incident. The incident was dubbed "the "Riverside Incident," and BC804 was designated as "Riverside IC" (incident command) for fire department operations. The tanker was determined to be on freeway property, so the CHP sergeant was designated as scene manager.

Isolating The Scene

An immediate priority was to isolate the area by shutting down all access routes to the scene. Street closures included southbound Riverside Avenue at Valley Boulevard, northbound Riverside Avenue at Slover Avenue, the westbound exit ramp at Riverside Avenue and the left-turn lane for the eastbound off ramp at Riverside Avenue. This was accomplished with CHP and California Department of Transportation (Cal Trans) assistance. Rialto police were requested to assist with closures on the city streets. The Office of Emergency Services (OES) was notified that the incident had occurred.

The command post was located on the top of the overpass to I-10. The exclusion zone was determined to be the entrance to the on-ramp, with natural barriers on three sides. Red and yellow flagging designated the exclusion zone. The support zone was designated as that area of Riverside Avenue from the eastbound on/off ramp to the intersection of Riverside and Valley Boulevard.

The badly shaken, but uninjured truckdriver had the truck's shipping papers in his possession, which confirmed the load to be gasoline. Along with the "1203" designator on the vehicle's flammable liquids placards, and the familiar shape of the MC306 container (with the Union 76 logo painted on the back), positive identification was made. Representatives from Van Dyk Oil and Beall Trailers of Rialto (the manufacturer of the tanker) were requested to respond to the scene for technical assistance.

Action Plan

An action plan was developed by the unified command staff. The plan consisted of the following:

  • Safety considerations - grounding and bonding considerations.
  • Stabilize the trailer.
  • Drill through the belly of the tank or removal of existing plumbing to gain access for product transfer.
  • Transfer the product to a pump-off tank.
  • Upright the trailer onto its wheels.
  • Transfer residual product through the existing plumbing.

Safety - Grounding And Bonding

The area was reconned for possible ignition sources, and all potential sources were eliminated. Traffic control crews were ordered to refrain from the use of road flares. All vehicular traffic was routed away from the area of the trailer.

Photo courtesy of the Rialto FD
The Rialto Fire Department's foam unit, F203, is housed at the city's airport fire station. The rig features a 750-gallon tank and foam proportioner.

Because the trailer was resting on the side of the entrance ramp uphill from Riverside Avenue, the decision was made to keep I-10 open. As night encroached, lighting was supplied by pole-mounted floodlights on the fire apparatus. Air monitoring revealed no flammable atmosphere present, so a street light directly above the trailer was allowed to be turned on at nightfall, aiding in visibility at the top of the tank.

An advanced life support (ALS) ambulance was positioned near the command post, and medical monitoring of the entry teams was conducted pre- and post-entry. A rehabilitation area was established at the top of the overpass, with beverages provided for refreshment.

The soil near the overturned trailer was moistened with a foam line, and a six-foot-long copper rod was driven into the ground until only about six inches remained exposed. A grounding cable was firmly attached to the bare metal of the trailer, then to the rod. A bonding cable was then attached to the bare metal of the overturned trailer, to be attached to the bare metal of the transfer, or pump-off, trailer. (Note: As an added precaution, when available, a second grounding rod should be driven and a grounding cable attached from the pump-off trailer to the rod.)

All personnel within the exclusion zone were directed to be in full structural turnout gear and all entry teams were ordered to don self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). The safety officer monitored all access into the exclusion zone.

Stabilization Of The Trailer

Although the tanker was sitting firmly on its rollover rails, two heavy-duty tow trucks were requested to the scene for stabilization of the trailer. The trailer sat next to a guardrail, and on the other side of the rail was a 30-foot bank, terminating in a flood control channel. A catastrophic failure of the tank, or a rollover down the bank, would result in considerable ground and water contamination.

The first tow truck was backed down the entrance ramp and its cable secured to the rear axle of the overturned trailer. The trailer remained hitched to the truck trailer and along with the tow truck cable; this was determined to be adequate stabilization. Tension on the cable was applied just enough to afford stabilization, but not so much as to allow for movement after the product had begun transfer into the pump-off tank.

Drilling Operation

An on-call San Bernardino County Fire Agency Hazardous Materials Response team member was requested to respond for assistance. Upon arrival, plans were discussed concerning options for product transfer. Tapping into the skin of the tank remained a first option, and the San Bernardino County West End Hazmat Response unit was requested to respond so that its air drill could be used for the drilling procedure. Air monitoring was conducted by the San Bernardino County hazmat team. Contingency spill plans were put into effect, including a sand dike at the southwest corner of Riverside and Valley, downhill from the incident.

Two 2 1/2-inch AFFF handlines and one 13/4-inch AFFF handline were deployed around the overturned trailer from F203. Engine 201 connected to the foam unit to pump the deployed lines. The lines afforded protection to the entry firefighters, as well as fire suppression capabilities. A one-inch booster line was placed on the ground for decontamination purposes. Water supply was from a four-inch line, laid 600 feet from the southeast corner of Riverside and Valley. An additional engine was requested for manpower augmentation. The captain on this unit was designated as the scene public information officer (PIO).

Once the industry representatives had arrived, discussion centered on the drilling operation. Removal of the tank's plumbing remained as an alternative, as there was the possibility that too much fuel remained in the plumbing. The representative from the tank-manufacturing firm diagrammed the design of the tank, noting external air, electrical and fuel lines, and any internal devices within the trailer.

The tank contained three separate compartments: 2,000 gallons forward, 1,000 gallons in the middle and 1,800 gallons aft. Placement of the three holes required for product transfer was discussed, and it was determined that the holes should be six inches to the outside of the bottom pipe for the tanks forward and aft, and six inches from the middle tank's pipe, toward the front of the trailer. A recon entry team, dressed in full structural turnout gear and SCBA, placed 10-foot ladders at both ends of the trailer, and marked the location of the holes with an indelible marker.

A safety briefing was conducted prior to the drilling operation, with everyone on scene present. The action plan was reviewed, safety and emergency plans were discussed, and questions answered. After the briefing, support measures for the operation were put into place.

A tarpaulin was placed on the ground just inside the exclusion zone, with the equipment needed to perform the drilling operation laid upon it. A low-speed air drill, connected to 50 feet of three-eighths-inch pressure line on a 4.5-SCBA cylinder, was set up. A four-inch bi-metal hole saw was used for the drilling. Hoselines remained staffed, deployed strategically around the trailer.

As support equipment was being placed, the operations officer and the entry teams briefed each other on their plans, including emergency signals and tool operation. Entry was made by a two-person drill team that was to ascend the ladders and perform the actual drilling operation. A two-person rescue team was positioned on the ground, at the trailer, solely to assist the drill team from the trailer, in the event of an emergency.

Drilling the three-16ths-inch thick belly of the trailer took about five minutes per hole, and a new hole saw and SCBA cylinder was used for each hole. Initially, water from a squeeze bottle was trained onto the saw for lubrication. This was found to be ineffective, and the lubricant WD40 was used from that point on. Once the holes were drilled, the drill team descended the trailer and the two entry teams retreated to the support zone. Air monitoring, which initially showed 0% lower explosive limit (LEL), was now registering less than 1% LEL, at the rear of the trailer.

Transfer Of Product

The pump-off trailer (arranged by Van Dyk Oil) was positioned near the overturn and the bonding cable properly placed between the two. A third ascent onto the trailer allowed the placement of the stinger through the holes of the trailer and into the product. A 100-gpm pump transferred the 4,800 gallons into the pump-off trailer in approximately 55 minutes.

Ideally, four-inch rubber expanding plugs should be used to plug the holes drilled into the tank's belly. Not having any available, and being a Sunday evening, our next option was to use redwood plugs. Anticipating leakage around the plugs, five-gallon buckets were made ready to catch any fuel until it could be transferred into the pump-off trailer. In addition, the possibility of a breach between the interior bulkheads of the compartments was suspected. This necessitated plugging the vent/drain holes at the bottom of the two bulkheads. (The holes are threaded to accept one-inch plugs, but not having any on scene, we were forced to improvise using the redwood plugs and plastic 35mm film canisters.) The pump-off trailer was removed from the exclusion zone while the uprighting of the overturned trailer was accomplished.

Uprighting The Trailer

The next task was to upright the overturned trailer. First, the trailer had to be disconnected from the truck trailer. A second tow truck was used to stabilize the front of the overturned trailer, as it was unhitched.

The truck and forward trailer were then driven to a safe location, away from the overturned trailer. The two tow trucks, in conjunction with each other, proceeded to turn the trailer over. The trailer was initially turned onto its side, and the redwood plugs assessed for security. The trailer was then righted onto its wheels. Although the brakes of the trailer were locked, the tow trucks' cables provided additional security against rolling, as did chock blocks for the wheels.

Transfer Of Residual Product

Approximately 100 gallons of product remained in the uprighted trailer. The redwood plugs did indeed leak, but the leaking fuel was controlled by use of the buckets. The pump-off trailer was repositioned and bonded to the uprighted trailer, and hoselines were connected to the undamaged plumbing at the bottom of the tank.

A fourth ascent onto the trailer provided a lookout as the product was transferred through the plumbing. Fortunately, the lookout caught the transfer of product going into the uprighted trailer, and the pump operator was made to reverse the flow into the pump-off trailer without further incident. After the product transfer was completed, the redwood plugs were again assessed for security, and the trailer was hooked to a tow truck and removed from the scene. Spilled product, consisting of about one gallon of gasoline, was covered by absorbent material spread by Cal Trans crews.

Equipment and supplies for the operation were secured, and the fire department battalion chief declared the scene safe at 1:30 A.M. on April 15. Roadways were reopened and normal traffic allowed to resume through the area. No injuries were reported to civilians or responders.

Lessons Learned

  • Once a workable plan is put into action, proceed with it. This is not to say "don't be flexible," but don't allow outsiders to change plans or influence actions based on time-saving factors. Consider alternative points of view, but do not sacrifice safety for time. Don't allow untrained individuals with differing agendas to influence sound decisions made within the unified command structure.
  • Although unavailable at this incident, rubber floor mats placed on the overturned tank could have assisted the entry team in walking and reduced the possibility of slipping off the tank.
  • The tow truck drivers had their way of doing things, but at times their suggestions were unsafe ones. Initially, they wanted to unhitch the trailer and remove the truck from the area.
  • The pump-off driver insisted that his transfer hose, or stinger, was adequately bonded, and therefore the trailers did not need to be bonded or grounded. Upon command's insistence that the trailers be properly bonded and grounded, the pump-off driver produced a copper rod about two feet in length and a battery jumper cable. The hazmat unit's grounding rod and cables were utilized.
  • Had a lookout not been posted on top of the trailer during residual pump-off, and the operation allowed to proceed long enough, an overflow might have occurred, resulting in serious injury or death to the pump-off trailer operator.
  • Tank drilling and product transfer are relatively simple procedures. The aluminum hull of an MC306 tank is very easy to drill through. Drilling temperature, although not measured, did not appear to be a significant factor.
    Previous tests conducted by Shell Oil Company, drilling through two plates of aluminum with thermocouples, clamped together with a gasoline-soaked rag between them, resulted in drilling temperatures not exceeding 101 degrees Fahrenheit. The auto-ignition temperature of gasoline is 430F, allowing a 3:1 safety margin.
  • To properly run a unified command, it is imperative that all agency representatives be directed to the command post. Communications between the CHP, agency representatives and the fire department went extremely well. Coordination of law enforcement and fire department operations was exemplary, as both ICs worked side-by-side throughout the incident.
  • Citizen patrols were used to control traffic at city-owned intersections. Initially, these citizen patrols ignited road flares to block off the roadways. They were ordered to extinguish the flares and refrain from using them during the incident. Cal Trans crews supplied them with barricades and cones for the duration of the incident.

The operation went as planned, with the product transferred safely to the pump-off trailer. Utilization of the incident command system afforded input from numerous agencies, and allowed for the safest, most efficient operation.


Rialto Fire Department:

3 engines (E201, E203, E204)
1 foam unit (F203)
1 ALS ambulance (MA201)
1 battalion Chief (Battalion 804)
(Total of 12 RFD personnel, including four certified hazmat specialists)

Additional fire department support:

San Bernardino County Fire Hazmat (one certified hazmat specialist, one hazmat response unit)
SB City Fire Hazmat Response Team (three certified hazmat specialists, one hazmat response unit)
West End Hazmat Response Team (two certified hazmat specialists, one hazmat response unit)

Additional agencies represented:

California Highway Patrol
California Department of Transportation
Rialto Police Department
Van Dyk Oil Company
Beall Trailers

ICS position appointments:

Scene manager (CHP Sergeant T. Cunningham)
Rialto FD incident commander (Battalion Chief M.J. Peel)
Scene safety officer (Engineer J. Harris, hazmat specialist)
Public information officer (Captain M. Watson, hazmat specialist)
Operations officer (Captain R. Nelson)

Michael J. Peel, who was a shift battalion chief with the City of Rialto Fire Department at the time of this incident, is now deputy chief and the department's training officer. He is a 26-year veteran and a former captain and firefighter/paramedic, and taught in the Emergency Medical Services department of nearby Crafton Hills Community College for 10 years. Peel is a certified hazardous materials specialist and has been a member of the San Bernardino County Interagency Hazardous Materials Response Team since 1989. He is a recent graduate of the National Fire Academy's Training Program Management course.