Saugus firefighters train for tanker rollover incidents

SAUGUS – If a gasoline tanker flips on Route 1, chances are Saugus firefighters will be first on the scene.To help make certain they know how to approach such a hazard, the Chelsea-based Dennis K. Burke Oil Co. sponsored three days of free training recently for every on-duty member of the Fire Department.”They actually brought a tractor trailer to fire headquarters along with two trainers, guys who have been driving tankers for years and have seen everything n traffic, weather, been in accidents and all kinds of hazards,” said Fire Chief James Blanchard. “Those are the guys you want teaching you about these tankers.”The tanker crew demonstrated the quickest and safest way to contain flammables inside the tank or control them if released. A forth session has been planned for this week.”Dennis Burke is one of the largest commercial petroleum haulers in the Boston area. They don’t go to gas stations to fill up,” said Blanchard, noting the training was arranged by Fire Lt. James Hughes. “The family-owned company has its own training and safety divisions. Lt. Hughes was able to reach out to them and they showed up to conduct a session on tanker safety for everyone on the job here.”The firefighters practiced scrambling aboard the big rig, turning off key valves and learning about the truck’s construction and capabilities.”Some of these tankers carry more than one product,” said the chief. “They are compartmentalized, so the same truck can be loaded with gasoline, kerosene and diesel. On the newer trucks, if the air brakes fail, the system for dispensing the product automatically shuts down as a safety feature.”It wasn’t always so.Blanchard said Route 1 has been the scene of some horrific gasoline tanker crashes and explosions. He recalled the story of the tanker that collided with a car atop the Walnut Street overpass while a school bus loaded with children was traveling beneath.”The product caught fire and the gentleman in the car was killed, as was the driver of the tanker. The product caught fire and got the asphalt going, which collapsed the bridge. We had the distinction of becoming the only fire department in Massachusetts to lose a highway bridge to fire,” he said.Another tanker crashed while maneuvering what was known as DeFranzo Circle, where Route 1 and Route 99 merge. “The tractor trailer rolled over and burst into flames. That driver died, too. In those days, the tankers were made of steel. Today, they’re aluminum. When the fire gets hot, the aluminum fails and lets the product out. But steel holds its rigidity, so the product expands and explodes,” he explained.In yet another tanker incident, Capt. Daniel McNeil had to climb aboard the burning rig and free the trapped and terrorized driver with the Jaws of Life hydraulic tool.”This was valuable training for us,” said the chief. “We have a rule of thumb in Saugus. If a tanker is heading north on Route 1, it’s full. If it’s heading south, it’s empty. Most of them fill up in Revere near the airport and head north through Saugus.”Under U.S. Department of Transportation regulations, tanker trucks must display a coded placard identifying the cargo, or at least the most dangerous substance aboard. The rules don’t apply to federal vehicles carrying anything from nuclear power equipment to advanced weaponry. “The federal government is famous for transporting stuff with no placards,” Blanchard said. “Their trucks are carrying nuke products or weapons and that is scary.”If a tanker does catch fire, Saugus firefighters will likely get help from the specialized aircraft fire fighting crash crews based at Logan Airport, or from the foam truck stationed in Danvers.”We have foam on our trucks, but it’s only used to help get the victim out. It’s for rescue. We don’t have the power to extinguish a tanker fire,” the chief said.

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