Behind the scenes: What it takes to clean up roads after fiery crashes

Behind the scenes: What it takes to clean up roads after fiery crashes

MILWAUKEE COUNTY, Wis. (CBS 58) -- CBS 58 News went behind the scenes of what happens when there's an emergency on a highway. 

A truck fire or a chemical spill becomes a race against the clock for responders. Safety, of course, is top priority but responders can feel the pressure of the clock ticking.

Potentially toxic chemicals poured out of a truck last week as it sat in flames at the Marquette Interchange after a crash. The first job for the Milwaukee Fire Department's Hazmat Team is to identify the threat.

"If you're worried about this thing igniting or exploding, that becomes a bigger issue where you can't just have people driving by," said Capt. Rich Matiszik, MFD Hazmat Team Director.

Captain Matiszik and his crew work with the Sheriff's Department and together they make the call of whether or not to close the freeway.

"It's very inconvenient to the motorists. We don't want to do that, the motorists certainly don't care for that, but we've got to make sure people are safely cared for," said Milwaukee County Sheriff Richard Schmidt.

One of the many tools at the hazmat's disposal can ID chemical substances when the team is unsure.

"The first step when we start training people is not to just learn how to use these meters. It's to start getting a background in chemistry and chemical reactions."

A background is just the start. One of the members of the 80-person team even has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. That kind of knowledge then allows cleanup to be as safe as possible for everyone. 

No one was injured in the Marquette Interchange crash. The chemicals were discovered to be mostly harmless. 

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