Article Archive
Observations On Pre-Emergency Planning

Swiss Re delivered a presentation on Power Plant Fire Protection at the 22nd Annual Industrial Fire World Emergency Responder Conference and Expo. Part of this presentation involved a tour of a power plant. Issues pertaining to pre-emergency planning at all facilities were reinforced.

Issue #1) Industrial plants are specialized. It would be difficult for a local fire department to develop generalized plans the way a large urban fire department might for tenement building fires. The urban department can do this because tenements are similar, there are a lot of them in a given city, and there are a lot of fires - creating opportunities to perfect the strategy and tactics.

That same urban fire department might have just one power plant in the city, and a firefighter could go for years without responding to a fire there. When there is an incident, the veteran of hundreds (maybe thousands) of tenement fires may be faced with hazards - like hydrogen - they never knew could exist at a power plant.

How do you find out that power plants use hydrogen? You tour the plant regularly and ask questions. You go regularly because hazards change and you won't understand everything the first time. Ask where the bulk storage of the hydrogen is located. Ask to be shown the hydrogen lines and the generator that uses it for cooling. Then think about what you will do if there is an incident. 

A lot of the equipment looks the same but can have different hazards. What might look like a metal vessel may have a rubber lining that can burn. Does that tank hold water or a hazardous material?

Issue #2) Know the fire protection and what to expect of it. Are all of the hazards covered? Is that piping for CO2 or sprinklers? Are the sprinklers water only or foam-water? If there are deluge systems, which valve controls which system? How long will the water supply last? Is the water supply adequate for hazards like fuel oil storage tanks that may be a good distance from the fire water loop? Where does the drainage from a transformer oil fire go? How do you start the fire pumps manually if that becomes necessary? These issues were covered in greater detail in earlier articles.

Issue #3) Who is in charge? This is not as simple as it sounds. Fire departments probably feel that they are in charge, but the plant manager may think the same thing. I have heard both sides of this argument at a large manufacturing facility. The plant manager said he should be in charge because the fire department does not know how to fight the kinds of fires they have. The local fire chief said "this is not going to happen, no way, no how."

The truth is that one cannot operate without the other. The fire department relies on the plant for knowledge of process hazards, how to safely shut them down, evacuation status, and how to get to the exact location of the incident. The plant needs the fire department's expertise in emergency management and in firefighting.

Alan Brunacini, retired chief of the Phoenix, Ariz., Fire Department, said that the worst plan is no plan. The second worst plan is two plans. If a command structure is not agreed to ahead of time, there are going to be two or more plans that probably conflict.

The way to resolve this is through open dialogue before the fire. I have yet to see the case that could not be resolved this way.

Conclusions and action items: It is up to you to make this happen. Fire departments need to ask to tour the plant. Plant managers need to invite the fire department. Both groups are so busy with day-to-day concerns that good intentions don't materialize.

Although this article focuses on power plants, it applies to any industrial facility.                                      

Questions can be directed to the author at or +1 770-389-1480.                            

Swiss Re is the world's leading and most diversified global reinsurer. The company operates through offices in over 25 countries.  Founded in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1863, Swiss Re offers financial services products that enable risk-taking essential to enterprise and progress.  The company's traditional reinsurance products and related services for property and casualty, as well as the life and health business are complemented by insurance-based corporate financial solutions and supplementary services for comprehensive risk management.


P: (979) 690-7559
F: (979) 690-7562

Content & Feeds

Download Magazine
Download Media Kit


Feedback Form
Privacy Policy
Ads & Marketing

IFW Sites

IFW Store
IFW Gallery



Thank you for visiting! Join us in our mission by subscribing to IFW magazine, using our Web accessible resources, becoming an advertiser, or sharing your personal input.