Understanding NFPA Codes on Freight Vehicles

January 1, 2016 6:12 am Published by Leave your thoughts

If you’ve ever been stuck behind a semi truck on the road for any stretch of distance, you’ve probably noticed the four-colored diamond plaque that’s present on the rear of every freight truck on the road. There are blue, red, yellow and white sections, sometimes with a number or a symbol in them.

This diamond is something called the NFPA 704 Standard System for the Identification of the Hazards of Materials for Emergency Response. It’s a mouthful to say, so most people simply refer to it as the “fire diamond.” But, this handy placard is about more than just fire ratings or flammability—it actually serves as a guide for any and all hazardous materials that may be being transported on the road.

No matter the company, no matter the cargo, no matter the destination, anytime freight services in Minnesota are involved, the fire diamond will be present!

Reading the signs

While it’s not necessary for the average everyday driver to recognize or understand the fire diamond, emergency responders are required to be able to interpret each designation that might be present on a truck’s NFPA badge. It all starts with identifying the color codes:

  • Red: This section of the diamond represents flammability. Numbers within the red space will represent the severity and volatile nature of any flammable materials onboard.
  • Blue: This color designation is for human health concerns. Anything that might create health affects upon exposure is classified and graded in the blue section of the diamond.
  • Yellow: Yellow is the designation for chemical reactivity. If cargo has the potential to become unstable in the event of an accident, this color will alert responders.
  • White: White is for special designations that might pertain to the cargo. Special symbols will make this clear—for example, “W” means reactivity with water.

Along with color designations, numbers will also be present depending on the cargo. These numbers range 0-4, with 0 or blank representing a nonfactor and 4 representing the most severe classification.

One of the first things emergency responders will do in the event of a semi truck accident will be to look at the fire diamond to determine exactly the hazard level they’re dealing with. Deciphering the various colors and the numbers or symbols present will help them to quickly determine a course of action moving forward.

Saving lives

All it takes to make a semi accident worse is taking an approach to cleanup that might put more people in danger. Trying to clean up a chemical spill with the wrong materials, for example, could result in environmental damage or even fire, while approaching a vehicle fire without knowing what caused it can exacerbate the flames like a kitchen grease fire!

The NFPA badge is an industry standard when it comes to freight services in Minnesota because it works! It’s a simple, quick, efficient way to give emergency and first responders the information they need to do the most good, without putting themselves and those around them in further danger.

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