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Italy: Train crash lpg blaze

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On the night of June 29, 2009, a few seconds after 23:50hrs, firefighters in the Viareggio Fire Station, Tuscany, heard an explosion and observed flashes coming from the area near the railway station. A short time later, while leaving the fire station en route to the area, they heard two further explosions and met people coming from the railway station, who told them about fires, explosions and a train which had come off the tracks and burst into flames.The fire teams had to face two difficult scenarios. On the north side of the railway, the buildings along via A Ponchielli and the neighbouring streets were alight, with approximately 200 metres of flames on both sides of the road. The trees in a small public children’s park were also burning, as well as some bushes, cars and an alimentary liquid tanker. Making their way through the flames, the firefighters encountered people who had been set alight while trying to flee; crews extinguished the flames which had enveloped them and handed the injured over to the Emergency Health Services. Firefighters rescued people from burning houses, having to access some buildings through first floor bedroom windows to reach injured people and take them to safety.


Extrication Besides these rescues, three buildings had collapsed, and several victims trapped under rubble needed extrication. Even wearing the complete required personal protective equipment, firefighters needed protective cover from their colleagues’ hoses in order to endure the strong radiation and high temperatures. In the railway area, the fire caused by the liquefied gas released by a breach in the train’s first tanker was threatening the other tankers, requiring cooling of those containers exposed to flames. During the night, a joint operations centre (COM) for rescue co-ordination and an advanced medical post (PMA) were set up. The national and regional fire Operations Centres dispatched support fire teams, which came from all of the Provincial Fire Departments of Tuscany and neighbouring regions.The train involved in the accident was composed of 14 LPG tank wagons. The first wagon was uncoupled and came to rest some distance from both the engine and other wagons; it had derailed and overturned on its left side (in the line of travel direction); four wagons were overturned and positioned at a normal distance from each other; five wagons had derailed without overturning; and the four remaining wagons were still on the rails.The first tank wagon in the convoy, now off the tracks and overturned, showed clear damage caused directly by persistent fire, a sign that the leakage causing the blaze had originated from this container. The remaining tankers were less damaged by the flames. However, fire teams proceeded correctly to cool those tankers closest to the one alight since damage caused by the heat was unknown.The other fires, fed by the gas residue persisting in the lower areas and under the ballast, were not extinguished but kept under control in order to ensure a complete combustion of the gas released.Wooden sleepers were burning, as well as electrical and transmission cables, brushwood, shrubs and various other combustible materials along the railway.An Advanced Command Post (PCA) for the operation command was activated immediately in a safe zone adjoining the intervention area. All fire teams arriving on site were sent to the PCA where they received instructions as to positioning and tasks to be carried out.At early dawn, all fires were extinguished and brought under control. Fire operations in via A Ponchielli and along the rails continued during the night – operations being illuminated by light towers dispatched to the site – and all day on June 30. Early in the morning on June 30, clean-up of the collapsed buildings debris was started in order to search for people under the rubble, and the removal of unsafe building elements began. As soon as possible, the National Fire Operations Centre alerted and deployed the regional advanced CBRN units to the site in order to carry out the LPG transfer operations from damaged to intact tankers and allow their removal to a safe place. CBRN units from the provincial fi re departments of Tuscany, as well as the Regional Advanced Unit of Tuscany, were called to the site to detect the non-burnt (and therefore dangerous) gas traces and constantly monitor the damaged tankers. CBRN units from the provincial fi re departments of Venice, Milan and Rome reached the incident site during June 30, to start preliminary operations – the setting up of special safety and gas transfer equipment and the deployment of fi re teams in charge of ensuring support and assistance to operations. From the morning of June 30 to the evening of July 2, working 24 hours a day with no interruptions, about 700 tons of LPG were concentrations within fl ammability limits, reached the buildings neighbouring the railway ground and, in some cases, permeated within the buildings. Next, the gas-air mixture ignited, causing the cloud to explode, setting alight combustible materials within its range. Buildings up to 200m from the release point exploded because of the gas penetration (confi ned or partially confi ned explosions). The ignition also resulted in a large- scale fi re near the damaged tanker. crItIcal condItIon It is possible that, owing to the ballast which broke up the liquid free surface and created conditions for the fl ashpoint, the persistent action of the LPG fi re was limited to the tankers closest to the one which had experienced the leak. Had all the tankers exploded, there would have been far more serious consequences. As CRJ went to press, there were 28 casualties and two people in hospital with burns, all in a critical condition. 


Chief giuseppe Romano is the Chief of the Florence Provincial Fire Command, Italian National Fire Corps, with more than 20 years experience. Within this role he represents Italy inside the various EU-TWG matters relating to Seveso 2. He is also a lecturer and member of the Council for the Pisa University course in Industrial and Nuclear Safety and a member of the IAEM 

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