HMN – Earlier this month San Diego County had a roll over incidentÂ on a busy highway. Â According to Fox 5:
Cleanup crews were still working Monday to clean up thousands of gallons of diesel that spilled from a tanker truck into a largebird sanctuary in the San Diego River near Old Town in the west end of Mission Valley.
About 3,700 gallons of fuel spilled into the river, according to Alex Bell, spokeswoman for the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health; but it did not flow into the Pacific Ocean because mitigation booms were put in place at Pacific Coast Highway to prevent further damage.
Location, Location, Location – time is not on your side
The roll over occurred during rush hour on a Friday on a roadway adjacent to the San Diego River. Â Diesel fuel from the breached tanker quickly found its way to the San Diego River which exacerbated the extent of the damages. Â As responders we must always consider ‘the worst case scenario’ and this one had several of those unfortunate variables. Â The location of the spill, as far as downrange impact to the environment, could not have been much worse.
In some cases plugging and patching the original container quickly becomes a non-option and as in this case, crews quickly had to come up with plans to minimize the damage of what was already ‘down stream’. Â In these spills teams need to quickly assess a plan to minimize the downstream consequences through diking, damming, diverting, and making quick decisions on risk/gain knowing that impact to the environment is happening now, but specialty resources may have long response times.
Bring out the Acronyms : A multi-agency response:
A spill to a waterway, especially of this potential, will get several more agencies involved, but it is your job to call them early! Â As a first on scene company officer it is vital to recognize the potential and make the notifications early to get the ball rolling for help from acronyms like USCG, NRC, EPA, DOT. Â These agencies are not only experts in their craft but have access to the extra equipment you will need.
You will be hosting a big party so make sure to institute the Unified command system, get a PIO, and plan command post and staging locations accordingly. Â It was obvious in the San Diego incident above that all of the agencies had planned for this type of event and had trained together. Â This incident, by volume, was small compared to other spills but the coordination of agencies and required tasks to be completed are the same. Â Â A federal on scene coordinator will never complain if you call too early or on too small of a spill – they are ready to help.
Remediation: It’s not over until…
Most of us in our first responder capacity are so honed to our ‘Rescue’ obligation we are used to quick, tough decisions, then roll out the flagging tape and return the scene to the owner quickly, wash hands – repeat. Â This kind of spill is different. Â At 3,700 gallons this is still a spill which causes major impacts to soil, the river, and the habitat and does not go away quickly. Â Teams were established for the river, the excavation, sampling, logistics, etc. Â Remediation ofÂ the area is a large operation involving the need for many personnel and several pieces of equipment and could last for several weeks. Â Remember to thank these acronyms the next time you see them at a training because if you need them, you WILL need them, and they will be there to help.
Our investigation found that seven sections under the bridge needed to be remediated almost to groundwater. Â Teams called in an on-site mobile analytical laboratory to handleÂ samples of excavated material to determine how clean they are getting the soil and where to continue. Â The river was initially skimmed with a vacuum truck using a skimmer. Â Vegetation needed to be removed and swept by Â hydrophobic booms. Â Massive amounts of soil needed to be removed, tested, and sent to the appropriate place for disposal. Â This was, and still is, a big job.
Lesson to those of us on the First In
Recognize the potential and get the right resources notified early, they can always be cancelled. Â Plan for the worst case and know what resources you have available, or may need to get to your scene. Â Just because accidents like to find the worst place and time to happen does not mean you can’t be ready with a workable plan.