Dynamite Truck Collides With Fuel Oil Tanker

A straight truck carrying dynamite and an empty fuel oil tanker truck collided early one July morning in a rural area southeast of Richland Center, WI. The driver of the explosives truck died at the scene; the two other men with him were transported to a nearby hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The driver of the fuel oil tanker was taken to the hospital with chest and leg injuries. He was later transported by helicopter to University Hospital in Madison as a critical care patient. He survived his injuries and eventually returned to work.

Although the dynamite truck carried a large amount of explosives that were thrown about the scene, along with diesel fuel, there was no fire or explosion. Sheriff's deputies arrived shortly after the accident occurred at 7:25 A.M. They quickly set up site control by stopping and detouring traffic for four hours. Nearby homes and businesses were evacuated as a precaution. Communication of the accident and the actions taken were quickly relayed to other responders. Local specialists were called to the scene as resources for securing the dynamite. Meanwhile, three ambulances and the local fire department responded to the scene.

"The components for an explosion were all there but it just didn't happen," Richland County Sheriff Fred Schram said. "Why it didn't happen? I don't know. The only thing missing was a spark. Maybe the good Lord was on our side. It (the explosion) would have left a big hole in terra firma."

The contents of the dynamite truck included ammonium nitrate, stick dynamite and detonator caps. Schram said it is illegal to carry dynamite and detonator caps in the same truck because the potential for an explosion is much greater when both items are present.

To assist with the dynamite handling, an expert from a construction company was called to the scene. This expert supervised the cleanup of the explosives and the removal of the dynamite to the construction company's bunker in a local quarry.

The collision apparently occurred when the explosives truck crossed the center line and struck the fuel oil tanker. Both trucks were demolished in the accident and the cab of the fuel tanker tractor was severed from the chassis. None of the four people involved were wearing seat belts.

Photo by David F. Peterson
1 - A close-up view of the explosives truck after the collision. The driver of this truck was trapped and died at the scene.

Photo by David F. Peterson
2 - A view of the explosives truck from the passenger side. Heavy damage occurred as a result of the collision.

Photo by David F. Peterson
3 - This view shows the explosives truck's extensive damage to the cab and the cargo area. Sticks of dynamite are scattered on the highway along with detonating caps and ammonium nitrate. Note that fluids on the left side of the truck are draining into the ditch.

Photo by David F. Peterson
4 - A close-up of the explosives truck from the driver's side that shows the sticks of dynamite on the highway. An "Explosive" placard can also be viewed on the side of the cargo area.

Photo by David F. Peterson
5 - Farther down the highway the rear of the explosives truck can be viewed along with much debris from the collision with the fuel oil tanker. This view also shows the "Dangerous" placard on the rear of the truck. This contradiction of placarding from photo 4 is illegal and the company was fined for this violation.

Photo by David F. Peterson
6 - A view of the fuel oil tanker from the rear and the debris from the collision. The cab of the tractor, which was severed from the chassis, can be seen lying in the ditch to the right of the vehicle. The driver who was in the cab survived this incident. The red "Flammable Liquid" placard was displayed on the back of the tanker even though it was empty at the time of the accident.

Photo by David F. Peterson
7 - This is a view of the entire collision scene with the fuel oil tanker on the left and the explosives truck on the right. Slight damage to the fuel tanker can be seen in this picture. The collision occurred on U.S. Highway 14 in Richland County, WI.

Photo by David F. Peterson
8 - With cleanup efforts underway, the dynamite was repackaged and placed in a transport vehicle for transportation to a storage bunker. In this photo the placard contradiction can be viewed. Also, note the ignition sources and the fuel load present and the exposures of up to seven people.

Lessons Learned

  • The importance of securing the scene before responders attempt extrication cannot be understated. The highest priority is to assure the health and safety of first responders.
  • Placarding on vehicles transporting may not always be accurate. The explosives truck was inaccurately placarded with an orange "Explosives" placard on one side and a red and white striped "Dangerous" placard on another side. Additionally, the fuel oil tanker was placarded with the red "Flammable Liquid" placard despite being empty. U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations state that placards are to be the same on all four sides of the vehicle and they are to be removed after the product has been off-loaded. These inaccuracies could cost responders their lives.
  • Laws are quite often broken and occasionally responders learn these lessons at incidents. Another DOT regulation forbids the transport of explosives with detonating caps in the same shipment unless they are in separate compartments. In this accident all commodities were transported in the same cargo area.
  • Responders need to be aware that radio transmissions can activate detonator caps. Radios should be banned from areas where explosives and detonator caps could exist.
  • Consult all shipping papers as soon as possible into an incident to identity all hazardous material present or involved, especially when the knowledgeable people are victims at the accident.
  • Verify all specialist or "expert" personnel's credentials who may come to a scene as resources. This practice may avoid problems later. Continue to control the site well after the danger may have passed. Even during clean-up efforts all ignition sources should be eliminated.

In this incident, fluids were draining into a ditch. Such materials could include transmission fluid, diesel fuel, brake fluid or even gasoline. In hot weather, the pavement may be extremely warm and could cause these "fuels" to vaporize, thereby making them a fire hazard. A vehicle's muffler, catalytic converter or engine could ignite these fuels.

  • Hoselines should be charged and staffed at accident scenes for personnel protection. Consider the use of special foams if flammable liquids are released.
  • Full protective clothing should be worn in areas where hazardous material is present or suspected to be present.
  • First responders should not conduct cleanup efforts. This is a task for properly trained and equipped professionals.

Even though this incident resulted in one death and three severely injured people, it could have been tragic for the first responders. Given the amount of explosives present and other fuels, the degree of risk was quite high.

David F. Peterson is a career fire/medic with the city of Madison, WI, Fire Department and responds on the Hazardous Incident Team, a Level A Regional team that serves 11 counties in Wisconsin. Peterson conducts hazmat training for his department as well as area industry. He is the founder and president of the Wisconsin Association of Hazardous Materials Responders Inc.