When a truckload of highly explosive black gunpowder overturned on the ramp from I-95 north to the outer loop of the Beltway, the metropolitan D.C. area had a rude awakening.
That morning, the entire Interchange was shut down, nearby neighborhoods were evacuated, and the area was gridlocked for hours. It was a low point in emergency response terms.
Interchange information specialist Steve Titunik said that truck accident spurred the way for the Virginia Department of Transportation to incorporate a map to address similar emergencies in the future. He displayed the map to firefighters at Station 5 in Franconia on Monday, March 8, to help them understand emergency procedures at the Springfield Interchange. He talked about the overpass going from the inner loop to I-95 south, which is in the Franconia Station's area.
"Before summer we feel that thing will be open, which is before originally scheduled," said Titunik. "That will be the biggest improvement to the project so far."
Five different fire stations are lined up to handle an accident at the Springfield Interchange, each assigned to a different group of bridges and ramps, depending on the direction of traffic, accessibility and timeliness. In addition to Station 5, the list includes Station 22 in Springfield, Station 19 in Lorton, Station 56 in Alexandria, and Station 26 on Edsall Road. Station 37 in Kingstowne also acts as a backup.
With traffic making access difficult, an accident on the top of the highest bridge could be a challenge for rescue workers.
"We're going to be the closest company to serve the big bridge," said Gary Gaal, the assistant fire chief at Franconia Station.
A STANDPIPE is an empty pipe that extends from the ground to the elevated roadway, with outlets at the base and top. In the advent of an emergency, a pumper fire truck on the ground would park by the standpipe, hook a hose to a nearby fire hydrant and the standpipe, and pump water up to another truck at the accident site on the bridge or overpass. Each accident would require two trucks.
"Every bridge or fly-over will have a standpipe mounted to it," Pope said.
Currently, in case of an accident, the Fairfax County dispatcher sends trucks from both directions to address the problem. With all the bridges, traffic and accessibility challenges at the Springfield Interchange, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department will have to change their procedure, Gaal said.
"When this new project gets done, they will not be able to send units from both ways," Gaal said.
In addition to the 65 fire hydrants and 35 standpipes at the Interchange, the county has come up with a new sign system to let fire and rescue squads know exactly where the problem is. Each station will have a map book for its area, with exact directions on getting to a fire. Now, when the dispatcher gives an address, the firefighters can look it up in their map book without much difficulty. When the Interchange is complete, they will get a separate map book entirely for that purpose with numbered fire hydrants and distance markers.
"It will be part of the dispatch information," Gaal said.
The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department is also incorporating an enhanced computer system called “Altaris” to increase the response capabilities.
Although the current bridge from the Inner Loop, which is about 110 feet at the peak, is the biggest feature on the project so far, Titunik showed a map that includes two other bridges yet to be built that are just as big or bigger. One goes from I-95 north to the outer loop and the other from I-95 north to I-495 west.
Tim Fleming, volunteer fire chief at the Franconia Station, sees potential problems.
"The key to success there is having people let us know where they are and us getting to them," Fleming said. "Fire isn't the problem. It's these two or three car accidents and we have to get injured people out of there."