GRINNELL FIRE DEPARTMENT Chief Jerry L. Barns Personnel: Four career firefighters, 22 volunteer firefighters Apparatus: Three engines, one quint, two tankers, one mini-pumper, one heavy rescue. Population: 12,000 Area: 120 square miles At 2 A.M. on March 23, 1999, firefighters in...
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Chief Jerry L. Barns
Personnel: Four career firefighters, 22 volunteer firefighters
Apparatus: Three engines, one quint, two tankers, one mini-pumper, one heavy rescue.
Area: 120 square miles
At 2 A.M. on March 23, 1999, firefighters in Grinnell, IA, were dispatched to a motor vehicle accident six miles away on Interstate 80. The Grinnell Fire Department is no stranger to managing emergency incidents on the state's busiest thoroughfare, which bisects the Grinnell Fire District. On this incident, however, it would be 12 hours before Grinnell firefighters returned to quarters.
Photo by Steve Meyer
Firefighters had to thrash their way through and spread out hundreds of pounds of burning candy to extinguish it. The sticky residue made for slippery and hazardous conditions.
During those 12 trying hours, Grinnell firefighters found themselves challenged by events that reinforce an everyday tenet in the fire service that even the best-prepared emergency responders will be confronted with the unknown and hampered by factors beyond their control.
Dispatched on the first alarm to this incident were one engine, the department's heavy rescue, a tanker and a dozen firefighters. The incident commander, Fire Chief Jerry Barns, was onboard the heavy rescue.
When the first engine arrived on scene, driver Rob Vest conducted a quick size-up and reported that two tractor-trailer trucks had collided and were heavily involved in fire. Barns immediately requested a pumper, tanker and additional personnel from the Kellogg Fire Department, seven miles away.
On the scene within two minutes, Barns was notified by Jasper County Deputy Sheriff Dennis Stevenson that there may be at least one victim in the cab of one of the trucks. One of the truck drivers had escaped unharmed and was walking around when Grinnell firefighters arrived. That left the other driver unaccounted for, verifying what the deputy had assumed - the other driver was still inside one of the burning trucks.
Strong winds from the northeast blew heavy black smoke across the interstate highway. Neither of the trailers was placarded with any warnings of hazardous contents. All apparatus were strategically positioned upwind from the fire and the interstate was closed to traffic.
Photo by Steve Meyer
A backhoe was used to rake burning product from the trailer load of candy.
An aggressive fire attack was made by Grinnell firefighters on the burning cab in hopes of rescuing the potential victim. The fire was being fed by diesel fuel leaking from damaged fuel tanks, and could not be controlled easily. Flames were suppressed enough to allow firefighters to locate the fatally injured driver of the truck and remove his body.
What Was Burning?
It was at this point, after the rescue priority was accomplished and firefighters turned their efforts to fire control, that the incident presented its greatest obstacles. To be absolutely assured there was nothing hazardous in either trailer, Barns attempted to determine the contents of the trailers. With neither truck placarded and all shipping papers destroyed by the fire, this proved difficult.
By this time, a water shuttle operation was established using Grinnell and Kellogg fire apparatus. Hundreds of vehicles, backed up along the interstate, clogged access to the incident and created difficulty for drivers of tankers supplying the water shuttle operation. Firefighters soon discovered that the fire remained resistive to control efforts, even though four 1 1/2-inch handlines were directed onto the burning trailers. Two foam proportioners on the Kellogg engine were deployed using FFFP (film forming fluoroprotein) foam. The foam had no effect on the fire. Class A foam was then tried, but yielded the same results.