Responding to Railcar Incidents Involving Flammable Liquids


Image on screen: A fire truck moves with its sirens on, we hear the crackling of the fire from a railcar, smoke escaping from everywhere and the first responders are taking care of it. First responders and specialists are discussing and developing strategies.

Narrator: When a train carrying flammable liquids is involved in an incident, first responders are often the first on scene. These types of incidents are not typical for first responders. They require a unique approach.

Situations involving flammable liquids need to be handled with the appropriate knowledge and expertise. Flammable liquids fires are dangerous goods or hazmat fires. They are complex, and pose unique risks. First responders must assess the hazards and mobilize the right resources to ensure public safety. They must exercise extreme caution. Taking action without a proper assessment could make a situation worse.

Text on screen: KEEPING FIRST RESPONDERS AND THE PUBLIC SAFE Responding to railcar incidents involving flammable liquids

Narrator: Fortunately, there are plans and procedures in place to help keep everyone safe.

Corey Schram, Chief Training Officer, St. Albert Fire Services is located near a fire truck and addresses the camera directly: For first responders, the first step to safely handle these incidents is by doing a proper assessment from a safe distance.

Until specialized resources and personnel arrive on the scene, non-intervention may be the best course of action.

Image on screen: First responders observing from a safe distance, letting a burning railcar go out.

Narrator: Non-intervention is an important response strategy, which allows for time to evaluate the potential risks and hazards at the scene, securing the perimeter and ensuring public safety. In the case of flammable liquids, it's very important to carefully watch for the signs of incident growth as fire volume increases, and for sudden tank car failures called heat induced tears. During this period, the liquid would continue to burn until another strategy is deemed appropriate.

Corey Schram: Unlike typical structural fires where response strategies are decided within minutes of the arrival on scene, the timeline when massive volumes of flammable liquids are involved is measured in hours. The situation is dynamic and the plan must be re-evaluated periodically. Non-intervention is often the safest approach. Defensive and offensive strategies are high risk and require expertise, careful planning and for the right resources to be used effectively.

Alain Carmel, Emergency Management Specialist, Suncor Energy is in a classroom dressed in his uniform and addresses the camera directly: For structural firefighting, municipal firefighters will, while still paying attention to their own safety, often go on the offensive to save lives or property. Often in our case, we must first apply a non-intervention strategy to be able to fully understand the situation, and with flammable liquids, there are several possible phenomena, and if we do the wrong thing at the wrong time, we can make things worse rather than better. There is a lot of heat, and as I said, phenomena can be very, very powerful, such as boil overs or froth overs.

Corey Schram: As a first responder, preparation is your greatest asset. You first need to be familiar with the types of dangerous goods that commonly pass through your community as well as their chemical and physical properties.

Text on screen: PROPERTIES is placed on the left side of the screen followed by a vertical line in the center and words, GASOLINE, DIESEL, ETHANOL, CRUDE OIL, BITUMEN on the right side of the screen.

Narrator: Flammable liquids have varying properties that you need to be aware of. Gasoline, diesel, ethanol, crude oil and bitumen are all flammable but they behave differently under spill and fire conditions.

Text on screen: VISCOSITY

Image on screen: Pouring of low-viscosity crude oil and another high-viscosity crude oil.

Narrator: The property known as viscosity gives an indication of how fast a liquid will spread at the scene of an incident.

Text on screen: DENSITY

Image on screen: Image of a beaker containing a liquid with HEAVY density at the bottom, WATER in the center and a liquid with a LIGHT density above.

Narrator: A substance's density indicates if a product will sink or float when mixed with water. This is important when dealing with incidents occurring near bodies of water.

Text on screen: FLASH POINT

Image on screen: Table representing a scale of degrees and flash point of GASOLINE, ETHANOL, JET FUEL and DIESEL.

Narrator: The flash point is an indication of how easily a flammable liquid can ignite.

Flammable liquids have varying flash points. Some will ignite easily under a wide range of conditions.

In the case of crude oil, it's a mixture of both flammable liquids and gases. Its flash point is variable, which makes it even more dangerous when spilled or on fire.

Image on screen: A railcar is on fire and smoke is coming from everywhere, the first responders are watching the situation.

Narrator: In addition, flammable liquids fires will generate different types of smoke. For example, diesel will generate a thick black smoke, while ethanol may show little or no smoke.

Text on screen: TOXICITY

Corey Schram: You also have to consider toxicity, or how harmful a substance is to health. Flammable liquids will emit toxic gases, whether spilled or under fire conditions. In the case of crude oil, hydrogen sulphide and benzene are examples of gases causing major concerns.

Image on screen: A first responder puts on personal protective equipment and a respiratory protective device. There are several first responders properly equipped for their work.

Corey Schram: Always use personal protective equipment and Self Contained Breathing Apparatus or SCBA until air monitoring can determine if the air is safe to breathe.

Image on screen: A placard indicating the class 3 – Flammable liquids, UN number 1202, affixed to a wagon.

Corey Schram: Take the time to learn more about the properties of the different flammable liquids that go through your community.

Image on screen: The first responders Aide-mémoire.

Corey Schram: To be better prepared, you also need to know the five key steps to take during such incidents.

Text on screen: 1: DO NOT RUSH

Corey Schram: The first step is to ensure personnel and vehicles are at a safe distance from the scene, uphill and upwind. Consult the Emergency Response Guidebook or call CANUTEC to determine the safe distances.

Text on screen: CANADIAN TRANSPORT EMERGECY CENTRE 1-888-CANUTEC (226-8832) *666 (mobile devices in Canada)

Image on screen: A CANUTEC employee who provides assistance and information by phone.

Narrator: CANUTEC is the Canadian Transport Emergency Centre, a 24-hour service provided by Transport Canada. During an incident, CANUTEC can provide over the phone technical information on product properties, evacuation distances, personal protective equipment and more. CANUTEC can also assist in finding information during any step of an incident.

Corey Schram: Always make sure you are wearing the right protective gear and stay away from any vapour, smoke, spills and railway lines.

Text on screen: 2: SECURE THE SCENE

Corey Schram: Next, request to shut down the railway line. You can do this by calling the railway's emergency response telephone number and asking them to stop the rail traffic on the line.

Then, take steps to secure the perimeter.


Image on screen: On a laptop computer we see a video of a burning railcars as well as smoke, images of railcars, trains and derailment of railcars.

Narrator: The third step is to identify the dangerous goods involved and any hazards from a safe distance.

Survey the area for fire, smoke, vapour, leaks, spills, and railcars for ruptures and other damage. Scan the area for other physical dangers, such as electrical lines, twisted rails or pipelines buried in the area. These dangers, if present, must be taken into consideration when developing a response strategy.

Corey Schram: To determine if dangerous goods are present, you must be able to identify which railcars may be carrying them. For flammable liquids, look for a bright-red placard, like this one.

Image on screen: Bright red placard indicating class 3 – Flammable liquids and UN 1267 number.

Corey Schram: There should be a placard on both sides and ends of the railcar. Flammable liquids are a class three dangerous good, which is marked on the bottom. The number in the middle is the United Nations or U‑N number, a unique number identifying the dangerous good. Twelve-sixty-seven means that this car is carrying crude oil. Be aware of other placards for railcars involved in the incident.

The AskRail mobile app is another tool that can help you quickly identify if a railcar holds dangerous goods as well as the content of the entire train.

Image on screen: The hands of a person holding a cell phone and entering information into the AskRail application.

Corey Schram: By entering the railcar number —the large numbers and the letters on both sides and ends of the railcar, you will access information on the car and its content.

The app is available to emergency responders free of charge. Visit the Railway Association of Canada website to find out how to register.

Text on screen:

Image on screen: A train consist or the train journal or waybill.

Corey Schram: You should also obtain a copy of the shipping documents or train consist, also called the train journal or waybill. You can request this consist from the rail company or through CANUTEC.

These documents outline what goods the train is carrying and their position on the train. They also include the shipper's contact information.

Now that you know more about the situation, you may review the isolation perimeter and any necessary evacuation zones.

Text on screen: 4: Get help

Image on screen: A train consist or the train journal or waybill.

Narrator: For high-risk dangerous goods including some flammable liquids, look on the train consist for the Emergency Response Assistance Plan — or ERAP — telephone numbers for the railcars involved in the incident.

Corey Schram: By calling the ERAP telephone number, you will be connected to a technical advisor from the company responsible for the product. This advisor will provide you with immediate technical and emergency response assistance.

Image on screen: Response team (first responders and technical advisors) and specialized equipment used to respond.

Narrator: Based on the discussion and the severity of the situation, the level of assistance may range from support over the phone to deployment of a specially trained response team and specialized equipment to the scene.

Specialized equipment may include, but is not limited to...

...foam trailers and class-b foam...

…equipment for detecting gases, vapours and other hazards…

…as well as pumps and hoses for transferring the product to a new container.

Text on screen: 5: Respond

Image on screen: A team of specialists who discuss and work together to develop, implement and enforce an intervention plan.

Narrator: Once the appropriate specialists are on site, you will need to work with them in a command structure and establish an action plan. With their expertise and assistance, the best strategies will be put in place, whether it's non-intervention, defensive or offensive. This plan will most probably have to be reassessed and modified as conditions at the scene change.

When entering the site, always wear the right protective gear and work in collaboration with properly trained personnel. Remember, keeping yourself and others safe is your number one priority.

Alain Carmel: Events involving rail transportation and flammable liquids are very complex. There are several things to consider. It's not just the risk of flammable liquids, or just the risk of a rail incident, but both of these aspects together, and it's rare to see a single specialist with knowledge in both fields. That's why it's important to call the resources from Transport Canada, and those from CANUTEC as soon as possible to access all the information and all the specialists required. Everyone brings their own knowledge, and when we put everyone together, it becomes even more important to speak the same language and to be structured with a unified command system to better communicate, help us understand everyone's objectives and prioritize our actions to reach our goals as quickly as possible.

Text on screen: YOU'RE NOT ALONE

Corey Schram: If you are the first responder, you may be the first one arrive on site. But know that you're not alone and a response isn't entirely on your shoulders. There are many resources and tools to assist you.

Image on screen: Circle divided into five equal parts of five different colors. On the orange part it reads: First Responders, on the green part: Rail Specialists, on the blue part; Industry Specialists, on the grey part: Transport Canada Remedial Measures Specialists and on the red part; Municipal Officials.

Narrator: At the scene of a rail incident, you'll be working under an Incident Command structure involving railway personnel, specialized resources provided through the ERAP and Transport Canada's Remedial Measures Specialist. Depending on the nature of the incident, other organizations may also be present.


Image on screen: Images of the Emergency Response Guide, AskRail mobile app logo, First Responders Aide-mémoire, CANUTEC and online e-learning tool image.

Text on screen: "Emergency Preparedness for Rail incidents Involving Flammable Liquids in Canada"

Narrator: There are plenty of tools and resources available to you, such as the Emergency Response Guidebook, the AskRail mobile app, the First Responders Aide-mémoire and CANUTEC.

If you want to know more about the response to flammable liquids rail incidents, you can access the online e-learning tool from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs called: “Emergency Preparedness for Rail Incidents Involving Flammable Liquids in Canada.”

Image on screen: The hands of a person holding a cell phone and using the Hazmat FLIC mobile application.

Narrator: The mobile app Hazmat FLIC, from the National Fire Protection Association is another available resource.

The app provides a detailed commander checklist as well as reference documents for high-hazard flammable trains incidents and pipeline emergencies.

Image on screen: First responders discussing together, image of a first responders Aide-mémoire, a fire truck moves with its sirens on, we hear the crackling of a railcar fire, smoke escaping from everywhere and the first responders are taking care of it. Then, first responders and specialists discuss, develop strategies and provide guidance to one another.

Narrator: Beyond these resources, you can also prepare by studying past incidents, organizing simulations and making sure your local emergency preparedness plan is adequate and up-to-date.

Corey Schram: Where flammable liquids are involved, the first responders play a critical role in understanding the particular hazards associated with large flammable liquids fires. With the right preparation and training, the right specialized resources on site, the right plans and procedures in place, Canadians can rest assured that situations can be handled safely and will be resolved respecting the following elements: timely, appropriate, safe and coordinated.


Narrator: For more information about the transportation of dangerous goods, about ERAP or to download the safety awareness kit for first responders — visit Transport Canada's website at t-c-dot-g-c-dot-c-a-slash-t-d-g.

Text on screen: Transport Canada, Safety Awareness Kit for First Responders,, Canada

Text on screen: We would like to thank all the participants appearing in the video.

We would also like to thank the following organizations that contributed time and resources to better the understanding of emergency response to rail incidents involving flammable liquids.

Their contributions have been invaluable both in the development of the TC flammable liquids exercise series and furthering the projects assuring public safety in Canada.

  • Alberta Office of the Fire Commissioner
  • Association des chefs en sécurité incendie du Québec
  • Campus Notre-Dame-de-Foy
  • Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC)
  • Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP)
  • Canadian National Railway
  • Canadian Pacific Railway
  • Defence Research and Development Canada, Centre for Security Science (DRDC-CSS)
  • Drain-All
  • École nationale des pompiers du Québec
  • Electoral Area Emergency Services of the Fraser Valley Regional District
  • Emergency Response Assistance Canada (ERAC)
  • Genesee & Wyoming
  • GHD
  • Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
  • Institut de protection contre les incendies du Québec
  • Institut maritime du Québec
  • International Safety Research
  • Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC)
  • Manitoba Office of the Fire Commissioner
  • MD-UN
  • Ministère de la sécurité publique du Québec
  • National Fire Protection Agency
  • New Brunswick Office of the Fire Marshal
  • NUCOR Environmental Solutions
  • Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management
  • Quantum Murray Environmental
  • Railway Association of Canada
  • RAM Environmental Response
  • Shell Canada
  • Specialized Response Solutions (SRS)
  • Suncor Energy
  • Tervita
  • Williams Fire & Hazard Control