3 Tips to Taming a Gasoline Tanker

In the early morning hours of Nov. 5, a semi pulling a tanker loaded with gasoline flipped on its side trying to negotiate a corner on a two-lane road in Richland County, South Carolina. The truck was en route to replenish a BP station when it overturned.

The Lexington County Hazmat Team was on scene for what turned out to be a manageable, albeit 12-hour-long incident. WACH reported that none of the rig’s gasoline spilled, and the driver was uninjured. The bulk of the hazmat work was containing a diesel leak from the truck and overseeing efforts to pump the gasoline into another tanker.

The situation could have been much worse. Toss in highway speeds and another vehicle or two and you could easily have multiple entrapments, a sizable gasoline leak, a fire risk and a diesel leak.

Two days earlier in Manchester, N.H., a gasoline-carrying truck flipped over and exploded. That rig was hauling 8,700 gallons of gasoline when it rammed a disabled vehicle that had just struck a deer. Both drivers escaped injury, according to Patch.

In mid-October a tanker in Revere, Mass., rolled, dumping 10,000 gallons of fuel, which made its way into storm sewers and the Sagus River. The Coast Guard and the state environmental agency were dispatched to contain and clean the spill. Only the driver was injured, CBS Boston reported.

In early October, a gasoline tanker overturned on a highway exit ramp in Mahwah, N.J. It burst into flames, killing the driver.

And all these events happened long before the first ice or snow storm hit. In much of the country, winter only increases the risk for serious tanker incidents. Here are three tips for preparing your hazmat team for these calls.


Keep it small. That was Retired Fire Chief Leigh Hollins’ advice in his 2018 two-part article that ran in Fire Engineering. Hollins acknowledges that keeping the spill small is often easier said than done. But the smaller the incident’s footprint, the fewer resources needed to bring it under control and the lesser the risk to all involved.


Mix up training evolutions. Avoid falling into doing the same tanker training every time. Yes, repetition is an important part of learning. But how much is anyone learning if the same training spill material is leaking from the same area of the tanker in the same crash scenario and impinging on the same hazards every time? Make the placards inaccurate, change the runoff threats, alter the time of day and weather, and tweak the number of responders available. Change the scenario based on responder mistakes — planted or organic. Different scenarios require different tasks and give more opportunity for hazmat team members to think on their feet and do different hands-on skills. And train for drilling the holes needed to off load remaining fuel into another tanker. This, Chief Hollins says, is a very dangerous operation.


Go big early. One of the keys to keeping the incident small is overwhelming it with resources early, and not find yourself playing catch up. That could mean getting wheel loaders from public works to drop loads of dirt in the fuel’s path. With that said, ERG reminds us not to rush in; life safety is still priority one. And there are times when letting it burn itself out is the best option.

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