Trailer Talk

Tanker Crashes, Driver Dies, Road Damaged, But a Fair News Story

"Tanker trucks hauling food, fuel and chemicals are part of the backbone of the economy. To some people, though, they are a growing danger." That's called even-handedness.

January 31, 2017

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News report of a recent fatal tanker crash painted a sympathetic picture of the truck driver who was killed and explored the sometimes dangerous world of transporting hazardous materials.  Photo: Tom Berg, from WCMH-TV news video
News report of a recent fatal tanker crash painted a sympathetic picture of the truck driver who was killed and explored the sometimes dangerous world of transporting hazardous materials.  Photo: Tom Berg, from WCMH-TV news video

The other day I read a Columbus Dispatch story about a truck wreck, a gasoline tanker that hit a guardrail and overturned, then quickly caught fire. Its driver was killed and the blaze damaged a freeway ramp that had been newly built just a few months before. The ramp was closed for several days, inconveniencing thousands of drivers who had to negotiate a detour and cost about $100,000 to fix.

You might think the story, a follow-up to the incident on Jan. 23, would’ve been an unflattering portrayal of trucking, but it wasn’t. The writer, Dean Narcisco, covered the accident when it happened, and led his follow-up like this:

"Tanker trucks hauling food, fuel and chemicals are part of the backbone of the economy. To some people, though, they are a growing danger." That's called even-handedness. (The full story's here.)

Narcisco went on to describe the fast response of police and firefighters; painted a sympathetic picture of the driver, a 58-year-old father of five, Duane Brodman; and explored the sometimes dangerous world of transporting hazardous materials.

The reporter’s sources had nothing bad to say about the trucking industry, and one remarked on the necessity of tankers. Some cited the importance of oversight to keep truck travel safe. There were statistics about how many tanker trucks in Ohio were pulled out of service for violations -- 11 to 14%, which didn’t strike me as high. There was even a discussion of the “slosh” inside tankers that can push a rig off balance.

Maybe that’s why Mr. Brodman hit the guardrail, though as an experienced driver he must’ve known that some surge – the term also used to describe wave-like movement of liquid – would occur on the gently curving ramp. But we might never know, because as the story said, the truck and any evidence, electronic or otherwise, were destroyed in the fire. And of course Mr. Brodman is gone, rest his soul and sincere condolences to his family, friends, and employer.

Evidently nobody brought up the tank trailer and its type of construction. Over the years, I’ve come to believe that their aluminum skins should be reinforced against crashes so they don’t break open and gasoline, diesel or whatever they’re carrying doesn’t splash out.

The same is true of saddle tanks on tractors: Why should they split open when the vehicle runs into a ditch, spilling diesel fuel and causing an expensive environmental incident? Because making them stronger would add weight and cost, that’s why, truck operators have told me. And I’m the guy who often asks makers of new products at press conferences, “How much will it cost?” So we can’t change the tanker situation in this blog.

This, by the way, is the last blog post I’ll write as a senior editor for Heavy Duty Trucking because on Feb. 1, I’ll enter retirement. In December, I turned 74 and I’ve been working at something or other since age 12, including writing about trucks for more than 39 years, so it’s time to ease up.

Call it semi-retirement (like a semi-trailer?), as I’ll continue to write Trailer Talk and do some other articles for HDT and TruckingInfo.com. So I’ll still have my hand in this great industry; it’s just that my fingers won’t be quite as busy. I hope you’ll still read my stuff and much more important, that it makes sense and provides information that you can use. 

Comments

  1. 1. Jim Bianchi [ February 06, 2017 @ 11:04AM ]

    Tom - Best wishes on your "semi-retirement". I always enjoyed working with you back in my days working for Fruehauf and later for clients of my PR firm. You've provided a great service to your readers over the years - providing solid info as well as a sharp wit and true kindness. I'll never forget how you took a little extra time with me when I was a rookie PR guy just learning about trailers. Take care, Jim Bianchi

 

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Author Bio

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Tom Berg

Senior Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

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