Accident Investigation at the Underground Salt Haul Truck Fire at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

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Publisher:  U. S. Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Management

Published As:  Public


Topics:  Fire Protection, Vehicle Safety, Occupational Safety and Health, Operations, Maintenance, Confined Space

On Wednesday, February 5, 2014, an underground mine fire involving an EIMCO Haul Truck (salt haul truck) occurred at the Department of Energy Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico. There were 86 workers in the mine (underground) when the fire occurred. All workers were safely evacuated. Six workers were transported to the Carlsbad Medical Center for treatment for smoke inhalation and an additional seven workers were treated on-site.

The fire is believed to have originated in the trucks engine compartment and involved hydraulic fluid and/or diesel fuel which contacted hot surfaces on the truck, possibly the catalytic converter, and then ignited. The fire burned the engine compartment and consumed the front tires which contributed significantly to the amount of smoke and soot in the underground.

The Operator had just unloaded salt from the truck when he noticed an orange glow and then flames between the engine and the dump sections of the truck. The Operator attempted to extinguish the fire with a portable fire extinguisher stored on the truck and then by activating the salt haul trucks fire suppression system. Both attempts to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful. The Operator then used a mine phone to notified Maintenance of the fire, and his Supervisor overheard the conversation over a nearby mine phone, which can also be heard throughout the underground. Two nearby workers heard the discussion on the mine phone and, based on the urgency of the Operators voice, went to the scene to see if they could assist. They began pushing a nearby 300-pound fire extinguisher to the fire when their carbon monoxide monitor alarmed and the smoke worsened. One of the workers called the Central Monitoring Room to report the fire and smoke, and recommended evacuation of the underground.

Lessons Learned: The root cause of this accident was due to the failure of Nuclear Waste Partnership LLC and the previous management and operations contractor to adequately recognize and mitigate the hazard regarding a fire in the underground. This includes recognition and removal of the buildup of combustibles through inspections and periodic preventative maintenance, and the decision to deactivate the automatic onboard fire suppression system.

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