Fire Service Fights Agri-Business Over Hazmat Transport Rules

A long-running dispute between the fire service and the agriculture-business industry has become a semi-monthly skirmish on Capitol Hill. The issue is hazardous materials regulations and the battleground is the hearing rooms of various congressional...


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What's puzzling is why there is so much opposition to the hazmat regulation when the actual cost of a placard is only 58 cents, plus $12 for a frame to hold it on a truck? Floyd Gaibler, vice president of government affairs for the Agricultural Retailers Association, insists that cost is only part of the problem and that the chemicals in question are hauled only short distances in the spring and fall. "The biggest problem is the time required to sort out the various products and which signs and papers are required," Gaibler explains, "...our people are concerned about safety and it's another regulatory burden being put on them when they're trying to do a good job."

Fire service leaders involved in the fight suspect that the real opposition is not coming from small farmers or mom-and-pop retailers, but from big businesses who run large agricultural supply companies and those who operate the huge corporate farms that have come to dominate agriculture in many states. They point out that the chemicals in question are highly dangerous and that they are being carried on crowded highways in populated areas as well as on rural roads.

The bottom line is that firefighters have a critical need to know what's on those trucks when they respond to an incident. They cannot risk being caught by surprise. Eight tons of ammonium nitrate, 2 1/2 tons of pesticide or a tanker with anhydrous ammonia can produce a deadly hazmat disaster. And, the consequences are the same - whether it was carried in a farmer's pick-up truck, a local retailer's delivery truck or an 18-wheeler on an interstate highway. The victims are still dead.


Hal Bruno, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a political analyst with ABC News in Washington and served many years as a volunteer firefighter.