Hot Chocolate for the Road?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Plenty of people enjoy a nice hot chocolate on a cold, snowy day, but emergency crews were going to have to make their own on Monday, February 2.

Pinch Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Doug Douglas arrived on site as the scene commander after a tractor-trailer overturned sending almost 43,000 pounds of cocoa powder over Interstate 79 near Elkview. Capt. Douglas is also a Lt. Col. in the 130th Airlift Wing's medical squadron where he serves as Chief Nurse. He is a traditional guardsman.

After arriving on the scene, Capt. Douglas and his crew's first priority was to remove the cocoa so they could upright the trailer and resume traffic flow. The crew began removing the top of the trailer by cutting through the aluminum until things took a turn for the worst when the saw met a galvanized crossbar and sparks caused the cocoa power to begin smoldering. Pinch firemen immediately began dousing the smoldering area with a water can, but this only caused the sparks to travel through the powder and worsen the situation.

"From there, we had a mess," Douglas said. "We've never seen anything like this."

It became clear that Capt. Douglas needed more assistance. He asked Metro Communications, Kanawha County's emergency dispatch service, for mutual aid from the 130th Airlift Wing's fire department because the department has the area's only crash-truck equipped with a large quantity of foam which is used for aircraft fires.

Arriving on the scene from the 130th Airlift Wing were firemen Master Sgt. James Lynes and Tech. Sgt. Tim Harless, both full-time members of the department and traditional guardsmen. A mixture of foam and water was then used to douse the powder inside a dam that was built in the median to ensure the cocoa would not enter the storm drain.

Several hours, 10,000 gallons of water, 210 gallons of foam, and quite the story to tell later, one lane of the highway was able to be re-opened. Normal traffic patterns resumed only hours after.

The scene was a brilliant example of mutual aid between many responders. Along with the Pinch Volunteer Fire Department and the 130th Airlift Wing's fire department, Chesapeake Volunteer Fire Department brought a water tanker to the scene to refill the Airlift Wing's foam-dispensing truck with water. Other officials and agencies responding to the scene included the Department of Environmental Protection, West Virginia Division of Highways, and the Kanawha County Office of Emergency Services.

No other vehicles were involved in the accident and the driver of the tractor trailer was treated for minor injuries.  The driver was not cited.

At no time was there an open flame.
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