Article Archive
Saudi Aramco Embraces Live Fire Training Concepts
Volume 23, No.2

Oil and gas industry trade journals consistently tell about new construction and expansion to the world's energy supply facilities and infrastructure. Upstream, drilling rigs dot the landscape, while downstream, facilities now appear where barren land once existed. Cranes used in construction to expand current production capacities are part of the silhouette of these facilities.

One of the challenges facing the industry is providing adequate fire protection. As the industry grows, so must the infrastructure, both hard and soft. The hard infrastructure includes the facilities and supporting network of piping. The soft infrastructure includes the people performing the work. The fire protection field also has hard and soft infrastructure.

When thinking about fire protection with regards to industrial occupancies, people normally think about "hardware" issues such as automatic detection devices, both manual and automatic fixed systems, passive fire protection requirements such as spacing requirements, design requirements or fireproofing. Rarely do "software" issues -- the human aspect of fire protection -- come to mind.

Many industrial facilities maintain a fire brigade or emergency response team (ERT) on-site that responds to calls for assistance at a particular facility or plant. How can firefighters maintain these brigades and ERTs safely? What can managers do to support their operations so that emergency personnel respond efficiently, safely, and effectively to emergency incidents?

One of the ways to improve fire protection and the safety of fire fighting forces is through training. To meet the training demands of Saudi Aramco, its Fire Protection Department (FrPD) operates 14 fire training fields around the Saudi Kingdom so that the practical application of fire training is readily available. This training includes a classroom session and practical application. Emergency response personnel must be competent to perform the duties required of them during emergency operations.?

When training, students must be motivated to enhance their knowledge and skills. Training is a consumable good. Satisfied customers seek additional training. Those with unsatisfactory experiences do not come back for additional training. Maximization of participant learning during a training event is a key objective.?

When training for firefighting, the instructor should relate the training to its context and strive for realism. Firefighters will perform as they have been taught when operating under stress. Training in context involves training in tactical or strategic wholes, not in parts, by recreating operational conditions as closely as possible. Practical training should take place in areas that provide truly realistic conditions, and whenever possible and practical, should also be carried out in both darkness and daylight. Saudi Aramco embraces these concepts and has proactive? implementation.

Saudi Aramco is one of the largest oil companies in the world and is 100 percent owned by the government of Saudi Arabia. It is a fully-integrated, global petroleum enterprise and a world leader in exploration and producing, refining, distribution, shipping and marketing. It manages proven reserves of 259.8 billion barrels of crude oil, which is the largest of any company in the world, and it manages the fourth-largest gas reserves in the world, 239.5 trillion cubic feet.

Saudi Aramco owns and operates the world's second largest tanker fleet to help transport its crude oil production, which amounted to 3.3 billion barrels in 2005. Saudi ARAMCO has affiliates, joint ventures and subsidiary offices in China, Japan, Netherlands, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States. Saudi Aramco also refines and distributes oil products throughout the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to meet domestic daily energy demands.

Saudi Aramco's corporate structure operates its FrPD. As guardian of the complex infrastructure that produces, refines, stores and transports the oil and gas, the FrPD is vital to the continuing success of the company. A fire or other emergency that cripples or gives the slightest perception of damage to a Saudi Aramco oil facility has immediate ramifications on global oil prices.
The range of assets the FrPD protects is immense. There are exploration operations, oil and gas processing plants, offshore facilities, pipelines, bulk storage facilities, marine vessels, airports and communities.? The communities are self-contained cities and have all of the community assets protected by any municipal fire department.? The community occupancies include housing, schools, hospitals, stores, theaters, utilities and warehousing along with the large administrative complexes for the given area.?

The department previously operated only one fire training center at its headquarters in Dhahran, and offered courses such as Basic Firefighter, Fire Officer, Hazmat, Rescue, and Aircraft Fire Fighting. The facility still provides both the theoretical and practical application of the emergency response topics delivered. While it delivers impressive training totals each year, the number of live fire projects in the industrial arena is limited at this facility.
In a self-assessment study performed by the FrPD, it was noted that expansion of production facilities within Saudi Aramco would require a large-scale training facility and additional training to meet the challenges associated with these mega-projects. The study indicated a strong need for a new fire training facility that could meet three criteria:

  1. Provide realistic scenarios approaching what crews might actually face at a large-scale industrial emergency.
  2. Provide scenarios that address the full breadth of the assets the department is required to protect.
  3. Offer curriculum certified by an internationally recognized agency.?

Given these findings, it was immediately apparent that a new fire training center would need to be constructed and that the fire fighting evolutions would be of a scale far surpassing anything in existence in the Kingdom or even the region. It was quickly evident that this project would represent a huge investment on the part of Saudi Aramco both in terms of funding and staffing.

The FrPD prepared a proposal and submitted it to corporate senior management. The proposal was enthusiastically embraced by management, and as a result, the Advanced Fire Training Center (AFTC) was born.?
In April of 2003, construction of the AFTC began. It was also at this time that one of the original criteria for providing an internationally recognized and accredited curriculum was addressed. Through a partnership with Texas A&M System's Engineering Extension Services (TEEX) Emergency Services Training Institute (ESTI), 62 curriculum packages were acquired, of which 26 offered accreditation through the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications (Pro Board). This allowed the AFTC to quickly acquire curriculum to offer immediately upon facility completion.

During construction, the FrPD identified and developed from within their ranks a high caliber instructional pool and brought internationally recognized experts from various training centers around the globe. This created a true multicultural training experience for students and allowed training to embrace industry "best practices."

The massive facility completed construction on January 31, 2005. When the construction crews vacated the site, a world-class fire training center awaited the proud members of the FrPD.?
The major components of the AFTC include:

Integrated Process Complex
4,988 square meters of floor space spread over five levels
Flooded steel structural members and full footprint sprinkler system
Realistic reclaimed process equipment throughout

Training Applications
124 separate fire points
Spill fires and three-dimensional fires
Live working valves
Ability to expand or collapse fire in response to team tactics
Gas Plant
Offshore Facility
Dedicated rescue training area

Safety and Environmental Factors
Emergency Shutdown Device
Local fuel controls on each level
Designed safe havens on each level
Redundant vertical egress
Sloping Containment
Secondary Containment
Total containment and drainage to wastewater treatment facility

Integrated Structural Complex
4,306 Square meters: 85m long x 21m wide x 28m high (at highest point)
Seven floors in high rise, three floors in residential
Elevator shaft
SCBA maze
Constructed of steel reinforced 5,000 psi refractory aggregate concrete
Steel clad engine room and marine deck
Class B fires in engine room and on marine deck
Class A fires throughout remainder of facility
Two standpipe systems

Training Applications
Residential occupancy fire fighting
Commercial occupancy fire fighting
High-rise fire fighting
Marine fire fighting:

  • Engine Room
  • Tanker Deck
  • Marine Mock-up
  • Helideck Fires
  • High angle and confined space rescue

Safety and Environmental Factors
Emergency Shutdown Device
Local fuel controls
Self-leveling Class B fuel pits???????????
Wide hallways and means of egress
Multiple stairs
Total containment and drainage to waste water treatment facility

Storage Tank Fire Complex
Three tanks:

  • Cone roof tank (represents exposure)
  • Spheroid (represents exposure)
  • External floating roof tank (fire training prop)

16m diameter x 9.75m high external floating roof tank
Variable fuel level controls allowing either seal or full-surface fire
Adjustable self-leveling controls
Stair access to top of all three tanks

Training Applications
Rim seal fire fire fighting
Full-surface fire fighting
Fixed system application
Foam calculations and logistics
High angle and confined space rescue training (from spheroid and cone roof tank)

Safety and Environmental Factors
Emergency shutdown device
Local fuel controls
Sloping containment
Secondary containment
Total containment and drainage to waste water treatment facility

Classroom and Support Building
Classroom Building - General
Five classrooms
Computer-based training back-bone
Installed AV equipment in each classroom
Dining facility
Prayer Room
SCADA monitoring system

Support Building - General
Fire apparatus bays
SCBA refill
Fire extinguisher refill
Locker room

Support Systems
Firewater System
10,000+ gpm closed loop system
1,050,000 gallon firewater tank
Fixed monitors, hydrants and manifolds

Wastewater Treatment
365,000 gallon underground contaminated water tank
Crushed shell media water treatment skid
Recycled water

Fuel Distribution
4,000 gallon gasoline tank
4,000 gallon kerosene tank
5,000 gallon butane tank
Redundant pumps on gasoline and kerosene
Master fuel control center
Local fuel valves
Emergency shut down

Programmable Logic Controller
Programmable system management for:

  • Firewater system
  • Wastewater system
  • Make-up water
  • Fuel system

This impressive infrastructure can offer simulations, scenarios and state-of-the-art classroom facilities for the following types of training:

  • Industrial fire fighting such as refining, petrochemical, manufacturing, warehouse, storage, and pipeline facilities.
  • Marine fire fighting on ships, barges, dry-docks and offshore platforms.
  • Flammable liquid storage tank fire fighting that includes process and storage tank fire fighting.
  • Structural and municipal fire fighting, including residences, stores, offices and smaller commercial occupancies.
  • Special occupancies including high-rise, schools, hospitals and large warehouses.
  • Industrial rescue including confined spaces and entrapment/entanglement in machinery.
  • Drilling rig fires including fires in accommodations, galleys, generators, support equipment and well heads.

The facility began pilot courses in May of 2005. From just nine courses at its inception, the curriculum offering at the AFTC has since expanded to 21 separate course titles. Since the operation of the AFTC began, students representing Saudi Aramco's FrPD, Marine Department, Offshore Department and Plant Operations have attended courses at AFTC. In addition, the FrPD now offers training to selected third party companies so that others in the region can benefit from this advanced training facility and internationally recognized curriculum.

Long-time proponent and visionary of the facility, FrPD Manager, Ali A. Mokhtar can see the AFTC playing a vital role in preparing and maintaining the workforce of the future. Knowing that firefighters in the future will be reliant on advanced technology, he stated, "This facility will enable us to provide our firefighters and plant operators with the best and highest quality training in fire, rescue and emergency response management."
The future for the AFTC looks promising. A recent partnership with the Justice Institute of British Columbia will expand curriculum to include courses leading to a fire service leadership diploma. This will enable the facility to move towards becoming a training academy rather than a training center and offering college level courses that lead to degrees.

Saudi Aramco firefighters know they have the rare opportunity to make a difference that the world will notice. They know what kind of business they protect and that their success depends upon being prepared when the time comes. Through AFTC, Saudi Aramco provides its FrPD more than tools and equipment. It provides training to assure they have the know-how and experience to succeed.

Chief (ret.) Craig H. Shelley, EFO, CFO, CFPS is a Fire Protection Advisor with the Saudi Aramco Fire Protection Department. He currently serves with the Fire Training and Development Section. Chief Shelley has over 40 years of experience and previously served with the City of New York Fire Department (FDNY) as the Chief of Marine Operations, Special Operations Command and as the fire chief for the City of Rutland (VT) Fire Department. Chief Shelley has written numerous articles for trade publications and is a co-author of Industrial Firefighting for Municipal Firefighters (PennWell, 2007). In addition Chief Shelley has authored a chapter in the recently published text Industrial Fire Brigade: Principles and Practices (Jones and Bartlett, 2007). For further information the author may be contacted at Gerald Smith is a Fire Protection Advisor for Saudi Aramco's Fire Protection Department. He has been in the fire service for 25 years and has served as a firefighter/paramedic and training officer for the Montgomery (AL) Fire Department. He has a master's degree in training and development from Louisiana State University, where he also served as assistant director at LSU's Fire and Emergency Training Institute.


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