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Baltimore fire prompts accident plan review

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BALTIMORE'S FIRE Department is to review the city's hazardous materials accident plan in the light of the tunnel fire that raged beneath the city centre for five days last month.

The blaze caused widespread disruption and millions of pounds worth of damage (NCE NCE 26/July 2 August).

The fire broke out on a freight train when one of its wagons derailed, causing a tanker carrying tripropylene, a highly flammable petroleum compound, to rupture and ignite its cargo.

At the time the fire department said the possibility of such an intense chemical fire in the 2.7km tunnel was 'too far fetched' to warrant specific mention in the city's disaster plan.

However, a fire department spokesman this week told NCE that the plan is now being reevaluated 'to see if there are improvements to be made.'

Baltimore's 440 page hazardous materials accident plan, a requirement under federal law, contains just two pages on the risk of chemicals spills on roads or railways. It makes no mention of the Howard Street tunnel.

'The accident plan is more about delineating roles and responsibility, ' explained battalion chief Hector Torres.

'There is a perception that this is the only reference material available to us, but this is not true, ' he added. 'We use many other documents and computer programs. They are just not in the plan.

'But we are not saying that everything went perfectly. We will look at lessons learned, and if there is a way of improving the plan, we will do it, ' he said.

Meanwhile, CSX Corporation, which owns the train, track and tunnel, has agreed to pay £900,000 towards the cost of overtime incurred by the Fire Department and other emergency teams.

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