More than 550 industrial firefighters and safety personnel attended the Texas Engineering Extension Service's 44th Annual Industrial Fire School in July at the Emergency Services Training Institute, part of Texas A&M University.
John Quincy Adams, corporate manager of industrial safety for Enterprise Products and current Chairman of Mutual Aid of Mont Belvieu (MAMB) has served as a past chairman of the annual school. Now serving as an advisor to the school, Adams said this marks the third year that attendance figures have improved.
Students returning to the fire field might not recognize it for all the change that has taken place, he said.
"There is so much construction going on," Adams said. "You're looking at nearly $30 million in construction under way here."
Completed in time for the school, the ESTI chemical complex project has been completely redone, Adams said. It can now sustain 14 separate evolutions so that students face a different scenario each time they train.
"I talked to some of the student who have been here before and they were just amazed at what we could now do with this project," Adams said.
The Industrial School is one of the few fire fighting schools across the country where emergency responders can obtain the latest industrial fire fighting and hazardous materials control certifications through the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). NFPA standards are recognized internationally for fire fighting and hazardous material control qualifications and are the foremost education standards in emergency response.
More than 200 highly qualified guest instructors and speakers from industrial and manufacturing companies train the emergency responders through the extensive classroom and hands-on exercises. Many of these instructors donate their time, services and expenses to ensure that firefighters are adequately prepared to respond to various industrial emergencies.
"We have set out to have all our instructors certified as well as our courses," Adams said. "We now have all our instructors certified with the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications (ProBoard). These guys can not only work as instructors in the state of Texas but their certification is good anywhere in the United States."
Phil Gibson, a regional safety manager for Enterprise Product's Texas division, has served as an instructor at the annual school for 13 years. This year he served as project director over the Level II advanced tactical fire fighting course.
"This school is my true love," Gibson said. He reported that Enterprise brought 63 employees this year.
Bruce King, an emergency response coordinator with Valero Energy in Houston, served as an instructor for the NFPA 1081 fire brigade leadership course, only the second year it has been offered.
"I just like to work with and help others who are trying to develop their knowledge in the emergency response field," King said. Besides Houston, Valero has plants in St. Charles, LA; Port Arthur, TX and Three Rivers near San Antonio.
This year's students included Thomas King, an oil movement supervisor with South Riding Point Holding of Freeport, Grand Bahamas. The company purchases crude oil from the Middle East and Africa, transferring the oil from mammoth tankers to storage tanks, then later transshipping it to the Eastern seaboard in smaller ships.
"We don't have a fire fighting brigade at my plant, so everybody is regarded as part of the fire brigade," King said.
King last visited the fire school 14 years ago. His company sends employees to the annual school every two years.
"It seems a lot bigger here," King said. "Sometimes I wonder if we were at the same location."
Another student was Ian Harmon, firefighter-paramedic with Eastman Chemical in Columbia, S.C. Having recently transferred from municipal fire fighting, Harmon was getting his first training in industrial emergency response.
"The biggest difference is what's burning," Harmon said. "It burns hotter and longer. It's harder to put out."
The Industrial School is the second of three weeklong annual firefighter training schools hosted by TEEX each summer. This summer, 682 firefighters and 190 guest instructors from 15 countries attended the 40th Annual Spanish Fire School. This year's Municipal School has nearly 2,300 registered emergency responders from the state's smallest volunteer fire departments to those serving the largest metropolitan areas, in addition to more than 500 guest instructors. Courses range from basic and advanced fire fighting to rescue operations and fire officer development.
Training is conducted at the Brayton Fire Training Field, recognized as the world's largest live-fire fueled training facility with more than 100 specific training sites. The facilities are life-sized combustible replicas, representing everything from oil tankers to refineries.
TEEX, a member of The Texas A&M University System, offers hands-on, customized training, technical assistance and emergency response services impacting Texas and beyond. o