Fire Chief John Fort at Valero Refining in Corpus Christi, TX, has no fire truck. In the event of a major tank fire he is dependent on the Refinery Terminal Fire Company, America's largest non-profit fire fighting group, for fire trucks, personnel and foam.
That's the way Fort wants it. Fort and other local industrial fire chiefs cite RTFC as a reliable and preferred alternative to the way mutual response is set up in other communities throughout the United States.
"We own a piece of an organization that is professionally dedicated just to emergency response," Fort said. "I'm not dependent on somebody sending me a truck with eight guys from another refinery who are normally pump mechanics and instrument technicians. The people from RTFC are dedicated to what they do."
As emergency responders, RTFC offers its members a high standard of professionalism, "the same as with a city fire department," Fort said.
RTFC, like all mutual aid organizations, charges annual membership fees. However, RTFC guarantees immediate response because it has its own fire station, trained fire personnel and equipment. In some cases, RTFC maintains fire stations inside member plants. By contrast, most mutual aid organizations are based on sharing in-house firefighters and equipment in emergencies.
"Back in 1948 when this organization was formed the idea was to save the cost of buying fire trucks for each individual facility," Fort said. "We have confidence that they will come because they are part of our company. I feel we have a lot better relationship because it is a business agreement."
Valero, a 380,000 barrel a day refinery, does maintain a 100-member volunteer fire brigade equipped with hose, equipment trailers, portable fire equipment, SCBA and haz mat gear, Fort said. Fixed monitors are stationed throughout the facility.
"We do have foam but not enough of it is mobile to do a tank fire type job," Fort said.
David Cave, fire chief at Corpus Christi's 165,000 barrel a day CITGO refinery, said that mutual aid set up on a business basis works for him too. He commands a 50-member in-house emergency response team that owns one truck -- a 20-year-old, 1,000 gpm snorkel that is due for replacement.
"Here in Corpus Christi we have RTFC buy the fire trucks," Cave said. "I don't have that expense. I only have to pay a certain percentage every year to have the RTFC fire trucks at my disposal any time I need one. Most plants with fire brigades have several fire trucks because they have to be able to send one, possibly two, to another plant on mutual aid while keeping one or two for themselves."
RTFC firefighters often participate in emergency response drills held at CITGO to become more familiarized with the plant layout and working within CITGO's unified command system, Cave said.
"The best thing I like about RTFC compared to other mutual aid organizations is that the different refineries and facilities here are the owners of RTFC," Cave said. "We have a seat on the board of directors."
Austin Prather is emergency response coordinator for two Flint Hills Resources refineries in Corpus Christi and a terminal in nearby Ingleside. Flint Hills' Corpus Christi complex produces 300,000 barrels a day. Prather agreed with Fort and Cave that operating mutual aid as a business gives him higher confidence in RTFC's emergency response.
"Mutual aid concepts are great on paper but the trucks and firefighters are not always dispatched by an adjacent facility in a timely manner," Prather said. "That adjacent facility might wait unit the backup firefighters arrive before dispatching. That means a 45 minute to one hour response."
Response time from RTFC's main station to Prather's plant is 15 minutes.
"That's a big advantage to have another apparatus on its way as opposed to waiting," Prather said. "Within 45 minutes to one hour we can get all the off duty RTFC responders from all the other in-plant facilities to respond as well."
Flint Hills keeps five rtfc firefighters per shift on duty around the clock at its largest Corpus refinery, Prather said. Another four RTFC firefighters per shift work at the company's second local refinery site. In addition, a crew of five more RTFC firefighters are available during daylight hours.
Compared to standard mutual aid organizations, RTFC is not a low-cost alternative, Prather said. However, there are other important advantages gained using an RTFC-type organization, he said.
"RTFC's main goal at Flint Hills is not fire fighting because, obviously, we don't have a lot of fires," Prather said. "Their routine duties involve the mechanical integrity of fire protection and safety equipment. They inspect and test that equipment throughout the facility. For me that works out great. Instead of hiring 10 different contractors to do these subitems I've got one group that does everything for me." o
RTFC invites you to be their guest at a tour of their training facility, a barbeque dinner and a live burn demonstration of their training projects as they help open the 2005 Industrial Fire World Conference & Exposition March 21. Take advantage of the opportunity to visit with Refinery Terminal Fire Company to learn more about their unique collaborative approach to providing fire protection for a major industrial complex in the Corpus Christi, TX, area.