Thursday, December 28, 2006

This Date in Fire History - December 28

Yes, I'm paranoid about fire safety, I admit it. Many years ago, when I was a cop (and taking some college classes), I had to attend an autopsy as part of my classwork. With my usual (not-so-) incredible luck, I drew a fire victim. I have never seen, smelled, or experienced anything like it, and I never want to again.

America has seen some truly horrendous fires over the years, from the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in 1911 that killed 146 factory workers, to the 1942 fire at Boston's Cocoanut Grove that killed 492, plus the more recent fires at the Beverly Hills Supper Club (165 dead), the MGM Grand Hotel (84 dead) and the Station Nightclub (100 dead).

Time after time, investigators found the same causes for fire fatalities: insufficient fire exits, locked or blocked exits, overcrowding, delayed reporting of the fire, and/or poorly-trained staff.

In an effort to reduce the likelihood of further needless fire deaths, I'm going to try -- with the help of the National Fire Protection Association -- to remind one and all of fire's potential, by posting significant fires (and significant developments in fire safety). NFPA, by the way, is not involved in this effort, other than by providing a list of significant dates in fire safety; I'm using that list as a starting point.

I will try to have daily "This Date in Fire History" posts, with discussion, commentary, and/or advice on fire safety. We may discuss the fires themselves; the social, legal, or psychological ramifications of major fires; how a particular fire may have been prevented (or, at least, how the loss of life may have been prevented); or some combination of the above.

My goal is not to gross you out, my readers; rather, it is to get you thinking, planning, to better allow you to survive a fire situation.

Of course, some of the most significant fires occurred so long ago that little or no information may be readily available. In those cases, we'll discuss what info there is, and how similar disasters may be prevented in the future.

Herewith, the first "This Date in Fire History":

On this date in 1966, an oil tanker truck collided with a train in Everett, MA. The resulting explosion and fire killed 13. The only references I was able to locate were NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) reports, which are not available on-line.

Judging solely on the basis of the report title, it appears there was a tanker-truck/train collision, probably at a grade crossing (based on my experiences in MA). Forty years ago, there may or may not have been gates or signals at such a crossing, especially if it were a spur line. On the other hand, train crews are usually very good about signalling their approach to a crossing (as anyone who has ever lived near a rail line can testify). It has been a Federal law for many years, however, that trucks carrying hazardous materials must stop at rail crossings and ensure the way is clear before proceeding.

Obviously, somehow, the tanker truck and the train tried to occupy the same space at the same time... with predictably tragic results. In this case, thirteen people died, almost certainly the truck driver, maybe the train engineer, and some innocent passers-by.

Time and again, motorists try to beat trains to the crossing, and time and again, the motorist loses.

Back when I was a kid, railroad crossings were marked "Stop, Look, Listen". Maybe we should go back to that.

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