Wash. fire departments bill trucker for hazmat cleanup

They submitted bills totaling about $85,000 to the trucking company, who is disputing the charges


The Spokesman-Review

SPOKANE, Wash. — Local fire departments are asking a trucking company to pay for overtime and other costs related to a leaking tanker truck that forced the closure of Interstate 90 for 18 hours in September.

The tanker truck was pulled over Sept. 14 after another driver reported a strong smell emanating from it. A 6-mile stretch of the freeway was closed in both directions while the truck was parked at the Washington State Patrol weigh station and Port of Entry near Liberty Lake.

First responders, including the Spokane Valley and Spokane fire departments and Fairchild Air Force Base, submitted bills totaling about $85,000 to the trucking company that owned the truck.

But the company is disputing the charges.

“They’re challenging whether or not a leak occurred,” said Spokane Valley Fire Department Deputy Chief Andy Hail.

Spokane Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said there’s no doubt there was a leak. Valley Fire doesn’t have a hazardous materials team, so the Spokane Fire Department supplied much of the personnel and equipment to deal with the situation.

Instruments showed there was a leak of anhydrous trimethylamine, Schaeffer said. Crews found liquid in a vapor recovery line on the truck carrying 7,000 gallons of the flammable substance. Two Liberty Lake police officers positioned on Appleway Boulevard south of the freeway reported having a reaction to the fumes.

Hail said he drove down the same stretch of Appleway after the police officers reported their illness and felt some minor effects himself.

“There was definitely a very, very strong odor on the south side of the freeway,” he said. “There was a numbness and tingling sensation in the lips.”

The truck was owned by McKenzie Tank Lines in Tallahassee, Florida. Thomas Panebianco, general counsel for the company, said they have questions about some of the items they were billed for in addition to concerns about whether there was a leak. The company has hired attorneys based in Seattle to work with the fire departments to come to an agreement, he said.

“Nobody has denied anything,” Panebianco said. “Everyone will get paid what they should get paid.”

Hail said he believes the company’s response is normal business.

“They’re looking out for their interests and we’re looking out for our interests,” he said. “We’ve provided more information. We’re just waiting for a response from them on whether or not they’ll accept our evidence.”

But the lengthy process has Schaeffer frustrated.

“It will likely be a long and involved process that will involve legal counsel,” he said. “Hopefully the taxpayers will come out on top.”

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