At the Refinery Terminal Fire Company in Corpus Christi, some of the live-burn props used for training have acquired some strange but appropriate nicknames -- R2-D2, the S.S. Grandcamp and, most notorious of all, the House of Pain.
David A. Herr, RTFC training coordinator, said the props have been named by the various instructors over the years. For instance, RTFC held a contest to name the training facility's freighter prop when it was built several years ago.
"People submitted names like the Good Ship Lollypop and the S.S. Minow," Herr said. "The winner was S.S. Grandcamp." On April 16, 1947, a small fire broke out among bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer in the hold of the S.S. Grandcamp, a freighter docked at Texas City, TX. It rapidly intensified until the Grandcamp exploded in a blast that caused massive loss of life and property.
Corpus Christi, also a Texas port city, founded a fire fighting co-op known as Refinery Terminal Fire Company (RTFC) the following year.
Built within the view of three major refineries and chemical plants, the RTFC training field condenses many different fire fighting scenarios into a few multiple purpose props. All of these props will be available for demonstrations held during the 20th annual Industrial Fire World Conference & Exposition to be held March 21-24, 2005, in Corpus Christi.
The ship prop is adaptable to numerous fire fighting scenarios. Inside it consists of six rooms split between two separate stories. The living quarters are connected via a common gangway. That setup can also be used as a prop for structural fire fighting, Herr said.
Among the other props in use at RTFC are:
THE HOUSE OF PAIN
The House of Pain is a closed structure that can represent facilities such as a compressor house. It requires slightly different tactics than usual for industrial responders because of the way the enclosure keeps in the fire.
"We call it the House of Pain because it is quite challenging to come in here and actually make your blocks on the two valves," Herr said.
The House of Pain is often used in conjunction with scenarios involving multiple pumps set ablaze.
"We will either burn a pump independently or we'll have numerous pumps light off in a sequence to show a catastrophic failure within a particular unit," Herr said.
The prop is officially titled VP2, but over the years that mutated into R2-D2, a robot character from "Star Wars." One glance is enough to explain why. R2-D2 represents a vertical pump used to move product. It actually looks like R2-D2, or at least a close relative.
"You have vertical pumps and horizontal pumps," Herr said. "The different pumps are basically used just to keep the product moving. Once it comes down from a tower it has to go somewhere, either to a heat exchanger or into another tower for distillation.
TRUCK LOADING RACK
This prop is used to simulate the more complex three dimensional fires that might occur in an industrial setting.
"We have a pit that we fill with fuel and ignite," Herr said. "The source of the fuel is coming from the top of the prop." As with the other RTFC props, the truck loading rack burns both propane and kerosene.
At first glance it doesn't look much like an airplane. When it isn't being used for ARFF drills by fire departments all over the Rio Grande Valley, it serves as a bullet tank simulation, complete with flames shooting upward.
"We use that to simulate the 5-10-15 rule where you have impingement on some sort of closed container," Herr said. "You start to get the boiling liquid, then the release of pressure. We have the propane come off the top and we light that as well."
But open up the bullet tank and inside is a plane prop, complete with metal facsimiles of passenger seats arranged like an airline interior. The airplane prop also comes with a wheel assembly and a fake jet engine.
"It's a good simulation of what you'd see on a real aircraft," Herr said.
No industrial training facility is complete without a simulation of pump alley to demonstrate the techniques and teamwork to safely control and extinguish multiple seal and flange fires and cool the structures involved. The pump alley at RTFC can demonstrate both liquid and pressure fires.
"They actually have to come in and make the block by turning the valves themselves to cut the fuel source," Herr said. He added that in reality the pumps "will be closer together" in most industrial facilities.
FIRE EXTINGUISHER PAD
RTFC offers an ambitious fire extinguisher pad. For smaller extinguishers the pad includes a prop vehicle for live burns. But the pad also includes process towers to practice using wheel units against three dimensional fires.
"We can have a fire rolling down a tower and engulfing a pit area," Herr said. "So you have a little bit of a challenge."
The towers available at the training ground can also be used for different scenarios involving high angle and confined space rescue.
"We can have a man injured on the tower or where rescuers have to go down and navigate through piping," Herr said.
The many props at RTFC are controlled from a single control center that handles the many lines for water, propane and kerosene. Each valve designates a different prop on the field. Herr describes it as "where the wizard stands behind the curtain and controls everything."
"We have one guy whose sole job for the different classes is running the fuel," Herr said. "Communications is done by hand signals. Everything is preplanned."
One important attribute of the RTFC training ground is the wastewater treatment center. Unlike some training grounds, RTFC permits the use of actual fire fighting foam rather than substitute training foam.
"On days where we're flowing kerosine or any type of liquid hydrocarbons and foam we have a bypass valve that we close and all the fire water, unburned fuel and foam is captured in the waste water," Herr said. "We do a pretreatment to purify the water, then it is sent back to the city of Corpus Christi for further treatment."