Hazardous Materials Railcar Size-Up Considerations
Fire Engineering Simulations
The U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety
Administration reports that hundreds of millions of metric tones of hazardous materials
are being used and/or transported in the United States yearly. Emergency responders
will be called to respond to incidents involving the accidental or non-accidental release of
these products. Although unfortunate, major incidents bring this to national attention
periodically, for example, the 2005 chlorine release in Graniteville, South Carolina, such
potential threats surround us and remind us of the need to be prepared (for more about
this incident, see http://www.cdc.gov/mmwR/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5403a2.htm).
This scenario touches upon one aspect of transportation—rail—that can be parlayed into
any mode of transportation. First responders must know the extent of what they can do,
considering the level of training completed, i.e. awareness, operations or technician
level. Remember to follow all state and federal rules and regulations while operating at a
hazardous materials incident and more importantly to use local Standard Operating
This scenario can be used in a variety of ways, depending on the type of incident you
want to exercise and experience of the participants. It has the following special features:
 Four different placarding: Acetone, Sulfuric Acid, Chlorine, and none;
 The tank car can leak Chlorine, Acetone (or any fluid you decide), or nothing;
 Up to three victims can be placed: a driver, a passenger, and an ejected victim;
 Banner tape can be shown to separate the hot, warm, and cold zones;
 The car can show no smoke, light smoke, heavy smoke and fire, and a
knockdown condition;
 Participants can use binoculars, a thermal imaging camera (TIC), and/or a
multigas meter to help assess the situation. You the instructor can determine
which tools are available to the participants; and,
 Using the thermal imaging camera, the participant can see that the rail cars
appear to be about 2/3rds to ¾ full.
The following are key points to think about while responding and operating on an
incident scene:
 A comprehensive size-up
Assuming command
Requesting resources
Identifying the products: can the participants use the Emergency Responders
Guidebook (ERG) properly (you must supply the ERG)? Are the participants
requesting/obtaining MSDS sheets and other documentation from the rail
personnel or rail company (in the Additional Information section of this document,
we give you links to various MSDS sheets)?
Rescue vs. recovery
The equipment readings and visuals are for instructional purposes only. Real data may be different.
HazMat Railcar Scenario
Evacuation vs. protect in place
Establishing scene control
Diking, diverting and containing the product
Eliminate sources of ignition.
Size-Up Factors for Hazardous Materials Incidents
Rail cars and vessels must be assessed for stability.
Sulfuric Acid Tanks: DOT 103AW, Non-Insulated. Safety valves (35* psi) or
Safety Vent (60 psi). 10,000 gal.
Acetone Tanks: DOT 111A60W1 (DOT 111A60F1), Non-Insulated or Insulated.
Safety Valve (35 psi) or Safety Vent (60 psi), 26,000 gal.
Chlorine Liquid Tanks: DOT 105J300W, Thermal Protection. Head Protection.
Safety Valve (225 psi). 90 ton.
Note: Because of the hazards associated with their cargo, rail car containers are
typically designed to withstand very rough treatment, including derailment, even
at high-speeds. Therefore, in this scenario, it may be more likely that faulty
valves or intentional mischief are responsible, rather than a container breach.
Also, the type of rail cars depicted in this scenario may not be appropriate for
carrying all of these substances. Such an observation may be a good point of
discussion, or you can explain to the participants before the scenario to ignore
this factor.
For this scenario, occupancy does not apply. However various occupancies can cause
different problems e.g. auto parts stores, big box home centers, pest removal stores,
universities and lastly SARA Title II covered facilities. Know the occupancy and know the
hazards. Most home centers have everything from oxidizers and flammables to poisons
and corrosives.
Apparatus & Staffing
Use the standard apparatus and staffing response for a motor vehicle accident.
Technical level knowledge will be required when using the Acetone, Sulfuric Acid or
Chlorine scenario. Will the initial responder’s recognize this need or will they become
victims? A decontamination corridor in the Warm Zone must be set-up prior to entry of
any emergency provider. Use of rail up-righting equipment, locomotive to move the
unaffected cars, etc. will need to be coordinated through the rail line.
Life Hazard
Individuals, including first responders can be exposed and/or contaminated to harmful
products that can impact health and safety. If at all possible, no individual should come
in contact with the spilled product. Proper personal protective equipment [PPE] shall be
enforced. Eating, drinking, smoking or chewing is prohibited.
Are people in the hot zone?
Rescue vs. Recovery?
o What is the major hazard? The vehicle accident or the chemical?
HazMat Railcar Scenario
o How long have they been in the hot zone?
Risk analysis states that if there is nothing to gain, that the safety of the first responder is
of the upmost importance.
What is the highest level of PPE on the apparatus? A, B, C or D. Bunker gear with SCBA
is still D. There is no 1 layer of the bunker gear ensemble that protects against a
chemical release.
Water Supply
Use the usual water supply. If no hydrants are available a tanker-type relay will need to
be established. Prior to applying any water several factors shall be considered:
Is the supply adequate enough to fire the fire?
Is water the optimal decontamination solution?
Can it be used to knock down plumes?
Can it be used to neutralize a caustic?
Will water with the associated run-off compound the problem?
Auxiliary Appliances
There are no auxiliary appliances for the scenario. However the following may be found
at fixed facilities: Sprinklers may be used to mitigate the spill/runoff or better be able to
contain the fire remotely. Special extinguishing systems may be utilized where loading
and off loading of the product occur. Ventilation system may be present to exhaust
Immediate Dangerous to Life and Health [IDLH] conditions.
Special Matters
Note that there the same types of cars with the same placards coupled in the train.
When dealing with hazardous materials, in addition to taking action, the first responder
must consider an equally plausible tactic—what would happen if I do nothing?
Weather should be dispatched while the student is responding. Use current weather
conditions. Some following factors for consideration: Hot weather can cause a material
to evaporate more readily and/or may bring a product to its flash point quicker. Colder
weather typically has the ability to lower flash points, may keep vapor pressure lower
and thus may keep the vapor density lower thus having a larger zone controls in effect at
There is a river to the rear of the C side of tank car. If you turn the acetone leak on, it
will run into a storm drain on side C that empties into the river (if you choose to disclose
this). To the B and D sides there are wooded areas. However there are many unseen
exposures when dealing with a hazardous materials fire i.e. the spread of toxic fumes
and gases.
It may be difficult to define the size of the area being threatened due to the length of the
rail and the rail cars. A vessel leaking a product can contains upwards of 63,000 gallons.
HazMat Railcar Scenario
These vessels may be coupled to cars with the same product further increasing the
amounts. Are these vessels exposed? Is a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion
[BLEVE] possible?
Location & Extent
Depending upon the keystroke this has many options. With people in play, 3 types of
chemicals or a simple car fire impinging upon an empty rail tank car. A chlorine scenario
with no passengers in the vehicle could be used to simulate a possible terrorism related
event. Will the student pick up on the cues of a MAJOR motor vehicle accident into
Chlorine tank car with nobody to account?
This will depend upon what you normally have in your jurisdiction. For this scenario a
grade level rail crossing can be substituted. With limited access to both the front and
rear ends of the train.
Use the current time during the evaluation.
Typical height of a car is 13 feet. The use of auxiliary ladders may be needed for
hazardous materials technicians to access the valving on the top of the car.
Use of Equipment
In this scenario, you can give the responder access to the following equipment,
depending on your department’s protocols:
Binoculars. Permits the responder to view certain conditions from an extended
distance. In particular, the responder may want to use the binoculars to identify
the product via placarding, spot victims, or otherwise recognize hazards before
getting too close.
Thermal Imaging Camera (TIC). In addition to its use for showing victims, the
TIC can be used on the rail car to estimate the amount of product within the tank.
Multigas Meter. This meter can be used to identify and quantify hazardous
conditions, to help responders recognize safe areas and define the zones.
Banner Tape. In this scenario, the zones are fixed to be consistent with meter
readings. When the participants have identified the zones, be it through
information they get from the Emergency Responders Guide (ERG) or via meter
readings, and they have assigned a company or firefighter to this task, you can
show the banner tape.
Of course you the instructor can equip your responders with other devices—for example,
hoselines, ladders, decon showers, PID’s, Rad Meters, etc.—but you will need to create
your own simulated data for the situation.
Other Potential Hazards in this Scenario
You may have noticed a variety of drums and other containers in this scenario, for
example, a propane tank in front of the Shelter, and on the drums lined up on the
HazMat Railcar Scenario
opposite side of the train. The observant participant will ask about those containers, to
which you can decide whether or not they represent real hazards to be avoided.
Additional Information
It would be a good idea to have an ERG (Emergency Responders Guidebook) available
for participants to use in identifying the products and following safe procedures. In
addition, here are web links you can use to obtain MSDS sheets for the various
Acetone: https://fscimage.fishersci.com/msds/00140.htm
Chlorine: http://www.vngas.com/pdf/g23.pdf
Sulfuric Acid: https://fscimage.fishersci.com/msds/22350.htm
HazMat Railcar Scenario

Hazardous Materials Railcar Sample Scenario