To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login
Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.
Complete the registration form.
Chief Mark Hora
Personnel: 24 volunteer firefighters
Apparatus: One pumper, two tankers, one brushfire rig, one personnel response van, one medical first responder vehicle
Area: 100 square miles
An unexpected storm during the early-morning hours of Dec. 7, 2000, blanketed much of eastern Iowa with a paralyzing coat of ice, creating a traveler's nightmare. Slick conditions from the storm caused three tractor-trailer trucks to pile up just west of the Interstate 80 and Interstate 380 intersection near Iowa City.
The aftermath of the accident left emergency responders grappling with hazards from, of all things, the life-sustaining element of oxygen.
The incident occurred within the Oxford Fire Department district, one of the more than 800 volunteer fire departments providing fire and emergency protection to Iowa's predominantly rural population.
Oxford Fire Department personnel were summoned to the incident at 6:30 A.M., simultaneous with an alarm for another accident on the interstate. Fire Chief Mark Hora dispatched firefighters to both of the incidents and requested assistance from the Tiffin Fire Department, eight miles away.
On arrival at the other incident three miles from the truck accident, firefighters found a fender-bender with no personal injuries. They then went to the scene of the truck accident.
While enroute to the truck accident five miles from the Oxford station, Hora was notified that one of the vehicles was a tanker. He immediately requested assistance from the Johnson County Hazardous Materials Response Team stationed at Iowa City Station 2, about 10 miles from the incident. The team is composed of 25 career and volunteer members from Johnson County fire departments.
Bad roads limited the team's hazmat van to speeds of 25 mph or less and delayed arrival of the van and equipment under command of Iowa City Firefighter Paul Suedkamp until 8 A.M.
When he arrived on the scene, Hora found that the three trucks had piled against each other in the grass median strip between the two lanes of the interstate. He identified a placard on the tanker truck bearing the number 1073 - liquefied oxygen (LOX). The tank was overturned onto its top. A small vapor cloud was rising from the tank.
Hora was also given shipping papers from the LOX tanker by Johnson County Hazmat Team member Paul Millice. Millice obtained them from the truck's driver, who was uninjured and out of the truck. The truck was owned by Cryogenic Transportation Inc. in Omaha, NE.
Assessment of the situation by firefighters discovered that the driver of the second truck carrying auto parts, owned by J.B. Hunt, was also free from the wreckage. Donald Ray Allen, driver of the third truck, an Arctic Express Trailer carrying fresh fruit, was pinned inside his vehicle between the other two.
Hora ascertained that vapors escaping from the Cryogenic tanker were blowing away from the trucks and the pinned victim. He ordered a rapid extrication of Allen. Firefighters accomplished the task in 10 minutes, then backed away from the wreckage.
In the meantime, Hora requested that the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) close down both lanes of the interstate. The DOT complied with the request and diverted traffic to other routes. The interstate remained shut down for 10 hours until 4:30 P.M. Allen was transported to a hospital in Iowa City, suffering from a broken neck, ankle and forearm.
Hora contacted Cryogenic and was told to open a ventilation valve on the truck, which he had two firefighters make entry and do. He was advised to do this because of concerns that pressure inside the tanker would build to dangerous levels. Vapors from the LOX that is transported and stored at minus 297 degrees Fahrenheit normally vent off through a valve and pressure relief system. The tanker was upside down, which was thought to make the ventilation system inoperative, thereby causing the vapors to increase pressure inside the tank.