Fire Fight: Institute plans tanker training for firefighters

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David Clarke of the Fire and Emergency Services Training Institute, and Jeff Younger of Tandet Logistics, have already demonstrated how hands-on training can make a difference.

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Every tanker involved in a highway collision looks like it’s ready to add fuel to a fire. In some cases the loads can do this very thing. That’s why David Clarke wants to offer first responders the practical training to keep bad situations from getting worse.

And he’s relying on industry experts — those who pull such trailers for a living — to make the training a reality.

Carriers such as Tandet Logistics have already helped the Fire and Emergency Training Institute (FESTI) instructor deliver hands-on training sessions through regional fire halls in Burlington and Mississauga, Ont. Building on that successful experience, however, the institute is now developing a formal tanker-related training program for technician-level firefighters.

It would be the first of its kind in Canada. To date, such training programs have been limited to U.S. locations at the Security Emergency Response Training Center in Colorado, and the fire school at Texas A&M University.

Some of the FESTI training will be offered in the institute’s modern classrooms, located on the outskirts of Pearson Airport, but Clarke’s vision has more of a practical edge. Driving past a series of wrecked planes, buses and trucks used for disaster training scenarios, he pulls up to a fenced yard tucked off an access road. At the moment it’s overgrown with weeds and littered with decommissioned trailers that create a post-apocalyptic feel. His plan is to clear all this away, establishing a permanent area where carriers can roll in with examples of the typical equipment that firefighters might come across, giving trainees the chance to see and touch every piece.

“Firefighters and police officers are very tactile and visual-style learners. They’ve got to see it, and touch it to kind of figure it out,” he says.

The industry involvement is key, though. Outright equipment donations can be costly and quickly become outdated. By relying on fleets to loan equipment and personnel to deliver expertise, everything will be as current as possible.

“You’re best to learn it from somebody who’s current and who’s a subject matter expert,” Clarke says. “If I was to go and look for a textbook, I can get one on gasoline tank truck emergencies. But if I get into the other specialty [trailers], there’s nothing specific to those for firefighters and first responders. The goal behind this is to change that.”

When with the City of Mississauga’s fire department, Clarke approached the Ontario Trucking Association and Canadian Trucking Alliance with a three-page wish list of equipment that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase. Their members delivered, arriving with the clean rigs that allowed trainees to get up close and personal without any worry about contamination, and offering the chance to learn about specialty equipment such as MC 406 and MC 312 trailers.

“I try to think of the things that you’d want to know if you walked up to an accident scene,” says Jeff Younger, a Tandet Logistics driver trainer who helped with the previous training. Arriving with a DOT 407 trailer, for example, he actually breaks an emergency shut-off valve found on these workhorses of the chemical industry, showing exactly how the devices work.

“I show them how to take the valve apart, how it seals, what to expect if you had to take it apart, or put it back together for that matter. Because in an accident, you don’t know what could happen,” he says.

Knowing how a frangible breaks off and releases pressure, ensuring that any valves for recovering vapor or unloading products are closed, can certainly make a difference at the scene of a collision.

“The trailer’s sealed after that. If you have leaks beyond that, then you’re into puncturing of the tank, and then you got a much bigger problem. But it’s a quick way to know if it’s a small leak that you can fix on site right away,” Younger says.

He is clearly a fan of such training for first responders, and not just in the way it can keep dangerous situations under control. A deeper understanding will also help to ensure rescue teams recognize issues that are not a serious threat. In one situation where a damaged tank of roof sealer began to leak, for example, a Tandet driver was able to show response teams how simple the mitigation work could be. Stored at 450 Fahrenheit in the tank, the cargo spilled out as a liquid, but also solidified at 300 degrees. With nothing more than a load of sand they ensured nothing flowed into a ditch and shoveled up the remainder.

“I learned because my dad did it,” Younger says, describing how he gained his own experience. He was driving in a yard at 16, and when licensed drove with his dad for nine months as he learned to load and unload. “Most guys don’t get that opportunity.”

This is about adding another layer to the training that firefighters already receive.

Firefighters know how to read the placards associated with loads of dangerous goods, and they certainly understand how to control any flames, Clarke stresses. “If it’s a flammable liquid like gasoline or diesel, that’s regular firefighting skills, and they’re wearing bunker gear, and that’s their job, to put it out or put mitigation in place so that it doesn’t light up.”

But pressurized vessels and equipment filled with chemicals can create unique challenges. As similar as they might look to a layperson, the designs can vary depending on whether the trailer hauls a chemical, pressurized gas, or load of plastic pellets. Related responses vary as well.

“For the chemical side of things, it goes a little bit further. They have to have more training, and if there’s a chance to do the shut-off or do plugging and patching, they have to be trained in that,” Clarke says.

“How can I stop that from getting worse? Well, I know the structure of the [trailer] now. I know where to shut it off, and the fail points, and those sorts of things. That gives me an advantage in the field,” he says. “And, now, I’m not waiting at the side of the road for two hours for somebody to come. CANUTEC [the Canadian Transport Emergency Centre] is a wonderful service, but the people who answer the phone about the chemicals at CANUTEC are not first responders. They’re not field personnel. They’re somebody behind a desk.

“So give the right tools to those field responders. Let them make responsible decisions. That is worth its weight in gold.”


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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking,, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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