Hazmat Studies:Tennessee Propane Blast: A Turning Point for Hazmat

The deadly train derailment and ultimate propane explosion that occurred in Waverly, TN, 35 years ago this month was a watershed event in hazardous materials incidents in the U.S. Sixteen people, including four active emergency responders, died from the...


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Although the incident in Waverly marked the last time such a large number of deaths and injuries occurred involving propane railcar explosions and fires, incidents involving leaking propane from railcars and other types of containers occur on a regular basis at propane companies, commercial structures and in residential occupancies across the U.S. and Canada.

Three employees were critically burned in a propane explosion at a propane company in Hope Mills, NC, in October 2004. One of the injured died later in a hospital. Firefighters fought the resulting fire for three hours before letting it burn itself out. There were no reported injuries to firefighters.

Four people, including two emergency responders, were killed and five others were seriously injured in a propane leak and explosion in a small stationary tank at a convenience store in Beckley, WV, in January 2007. Response personnel called to a leak at the commercial occupancy were investigating when the deadly explosion occurred. According to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), 30 minutes elapsed between the report of the leak and the explosion.

An off-duty chief officer suffered a fatal heart attack while at a fire at a propane depot in Toronto, Canada, in August 2008. The five-alarm fire involved numerous explosions at the facility. Residents within a mile of the scene were evacuated. Six people were transported to hospitals, 18 other went to hospitals on their own and EMS personnel treated approximately 40 others.

For additional information about the Waverly incident, contact W.B. “Buddy” Frazier, currently the Waverly city manager, who was a police officer at the time of the 1978 explosion and later the chief of police, at bfrazier@waverlytn.org. n