JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S. C. (March 21, 2016) -- Twenty military and civilian transportation specialists from the 841st Transportation Battalion at the Port of Charleston, S.C., are wrapping up an intensive two week Hazardous Material Transportation Course provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Brad Hallmark, a hazardous material safety instructor with more than 20-years of experience, is Program Manager for the U.S. DOT's Transportation Safety Institute, Multi-Model Safety Division, and is providing instruction to Army marine and cargo specialists in the areas of International Air Transport Association Dangerous Goods Regulations. Eddie Scott, also a DOT instructor, will continued the training March 21, with an emphasis on International Maritime Dangerous Goods.
"Whether we realize it or not, hazardous materials are so important to industry and impacts our lives in lots of ways. Many of the products we use on a daily bases are a result of chemicals or other materials that hazardous by themselves, but are used in the manufacture of plastics, resins, lubricants and many of the household cleaning products we find in our homes today, Hallmark said. "It is important that we know how to transport these materials safely."
"I tell my students, when it comes to processing hazardous materials for shipment by air, sea, rail or land based commercial carriers, 'Do it right, or don't do it, said Hallmark'" "I'm pretty adamant about that because there are many events that have shaped the regulations that involve either harm or the loss of life. These events often are the result of things done improperly, or from lack of training."
This is a lesson military transporters know all too well.
Rewind to the evening of July 17, 1944.
Sailors at California's Port Chicago Naval Magazine were loading 4,600 tons of explosives--bombs, depth charges and ammunition onto two merchant ships - the SS Quinault Victory and SS E.A. Bryan - which were preparing to join the fight against the Japanese Imperial Military in the Pacific Theater. Another 400 tons of explosives were sitting in ready on nearby rail cars.
At 10:18 p.m., massive explosions began to rock the dock in quick succession, destroying everything and everyone in the area.
There were reports that the blast could be felt as far away as Nevada and a pilot flying in the area at 9,000 feet claims to have seen chunks of metal sailing past his windscreen and a column of smoke rising nearly two miles into the air.
When the tally was complete, every building on Port Chicago was burning or leveled, 320 sailors and civilians were dead and 390 were injured.
An investigation into the disaster revealed some serious problems at the port. Among them, unqualified ammunition handlers, inadequate training, speed contests while loading the ammo and poor munitions handling procedures.
The implications from the disaster was far reaching and impacted all military branches across the DoD…and even had an impact on the Army's 597th Transportation Brigade.
Vowing to never let this happen again, the DoD ordered built a new ammunition port facility in North Carolina named Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, or MOTSU for short. Every element in its design was with port safety in mind at the forefront.
At 8,500-acres, it is the largest military terminal in the world and serves as a transfer point between rail, trucks, and ships for the import and export of weapons, ammunition, explosives and military equipment for U.S. Army.
The command responsible for running MOTSU later became what is now 597th Trans. Bde.
"The HAZMAT training provided by the Department of Transportation is very important for us. We have people coming and going all the time and we place an emphasis on cross training our people so that everyone knows each other's job, Navy Lt. Cdr. Karl Hickman, deputy commander for the 841st Trans. Bn. "Regardless of the individual, they need to know how to correctly handle and document chemicals, munitions and other hazardous materials during the loading and unloading process. Safety is priority one."