Buncefield U.K. Vet Attends Foam School
Vol 21 No 4
For six years, the Essex County Fire & Rescue has had firefighters in attendance at Williams Fire & Hazard Control's annual Exteme In-dustrial Fire & Hazard Training in May, said Justin Johnston, a divisional commander with the U.K. fire brigade. That training came in handy in December when Essex took a leading role in battling the largest explosion and fire in Europe since World War II.
The Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal, locally known as the Buncefield oil terminal, is the fifth largest oil terminal in the U.K. Located 25 miles northwest of London, the terminal was the site of an explosion that registered 2.4 on the Richter scale. Forty-three people in and around the facility were injured in the blast. Industrial buildings and homes surrounding the facility for many miles were destroyed or sustained blast damage.
During the next three days firefighter dealt with nearly 20 tank fires, six full surface dike fires and numerous three-dimensional flammable liquid fires. Essex was one of 16 municipal brigades that provided more than 600 firefighters during the 3? -day of fires that followed the explosion.
"What the Williams foam school did for us in that situation was give us confidence, not just in the special techniques we were applying, but confidence to deal with an incident on that scale," Johnston said.
Johnston, interviewed at this year's Williams F&HC foam school, served as incident commander for the Essex forces at the Buncefield disaster.
"We were able to offer strategic expertise right from the outset of the incident, enabling firefighters to deal with it in three days," Johnston said.
Essex, together with the Cleveland Fire Brigade and industrial firefighters from Total U.K., were in the heart of the incident, serving as silver incident command in the Gold, Silver and Bronze Command and Control structure which is the norm in the U.K. Also on hand was Williams F&HC representative Kelvin Hardingham.
"Training at the school gave us the terminology to put what we wanted into a common language so we could talk to the experts," Johnston said.
Of particular importance was training Essex received in the use of dry chemical such as Ansul's Purple K to extinguish three-dimensional fires and running fuel fires. As for the full surface tank fires, Essex was well supplied with large diameter hose and pumps provided by the government under its New Dimension's program, instituted following 9/11.
"Bear in mind that the water supply at the Buncefield terminal had been wiped away completely in the explosion," Johnston said. "Without that hose and pumps we would have been completely lost. Having that equipment can be attributed to national planning, coordination and locally trained staff able to utilize it properly."
Covering an area of nearly 988,421 acres and a population of more than 1.5 million, Essex is one of the largest county fire services in the U.K. It employs 967 full-time and 524 retained firefighters, along with a support staff of 277 working in control centers, training, workshops and service locations. The brigade has 51 fire stations in service.
The Williams F&HC foam school gives firefighters a chance to discuss the theory and then apply it in practice, Johnston said.
"You get to talk to people from all over, people who have dealt with different types of incidents in different ways," Johnston said. "It gave us a chance to pass on our experiences as well, which is also a benefit."