Article Archive
Burning Secrets
At the annual Williams Fire & Hazard Control foam fire school the secrets about extinguishing industrial fire are all revealed
Volume 23. No 4

On July 18, 2006, a fire erupted at the Motiva Terminal dock in the Port of Providence, R.I. The 600-foot Danish tanker Nordeuropa with a capacity of 271,797 barrels was in the final phase of delivering gasoline when a violent thunderstorm moved into the area.

Intense wind pushed the ship from the dock, snapping some of the 12 mooring lines. A 10-inch product line was drawn taught. An electrical spark from a damaged gantry ignited the 89,000 gallons of spilling fuel and an intense fire followed.

"We had a ship fire, a dock fire and spilling flammable liquid on top of that, all of this at the largest industrial facility in the area," said John Healey, a captain with the Providence Fire Department.

As part of a reevaluation of the Providence Fire Department's ability to deal with emergencies requiring large volume of foam, Healey attended the Williams Fire & Hazard Control foam fire fighting school held in Beaumont, TX, in May.

"We set out to increase our foam fire fighting capacity from just being able to handle spills and loading rack fires," Healey said. "We need the larger devices and expertise to put out the larger fires such as a storage tank fire or the new ethanol off loading facility."

Dwight Williams of Williams Fire & Hazard Control said attendance for the 2008 qualified as the largest ever.

"It's bigger than last year, which was bigger than the year before that," Williams said. "It's just constantly getting better."

It was later determined that an electrical spark from a damaged gantry, not a lightning strike, caused the fire. The Motiva terminal supplies much of the gasoline for Rhode Island and parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts. As a result of the intense fire, Motiva could not accept deliveries for 12 weeks, challenging other distribution facilities to make up the short fall.

Healey was in charge of the first fire company on the scene. His unit specializes in the use of foam in structural fire fighting. The company's engine is equipped with a foam system, foam supply and 500 gpm turret.

?"We hit the fire with our engine 13 and some backup foam from the airport," Healey said. "At that time there was no ethanol involved so we could still use AFFF foam."

Since the fire, Motiva has donated a trailer-mounted Ambassador 1x6 monitor to the fire department. If dispatched to lend mutual aid, the monitor travels with two engines, a ladder truck and a crew of 12 trained to use it, Healey said. Attending the Williams F&HC foam school is an important step in that training.

"I can start training the other guys when I get back," Healey said.

Improving response to big fire also brought volunteer responder Dennis Meshell with the Calumet Lubricants refinery in Cotton Valley, LA, to Beaumont. The Cotton Valley refinery is an aliphatic solvents refinery with 100 million gallons in storage capacity.

"We are in the process of working on our truck loading dock, installing a dual dry chemical - foam system to work beside the sprinkler system," Meshell said. "We can flood our whole truck dock at one time with dry chemical, depending on the fire."

Cotton Valley responders attended the school last year and brought back a wealth of information, he said. The plant manager is outspoken in supporting the responders in getting as much training as possible. With regard to mutual aid, a mass training exercise involving nine surrounding fire department is planned for June at the refinery.

"We are going to simulate a major tank fire with explosions and injuries," Meshell said. "Our EMS and decon will be involved."

Among those Williams F&HC students visiting from overseas were Han Van de Eroek, manager of the operations department of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the main airport for The Netherland's capital city. In 2007, Schiphol handled 47,793,602 passengers, ranking fifth in Europe behind London, Paris, Frankfurt and Madrid. In the same year, Schiphol handled 1,566,828 tons of cargo, ranking third in Europe behind Paris and Frankfurt.

"The general manager of the aircraft fuel supply terminal decided a couple of years ago, even before the 2005 Buncefield oil depot explosion, that it was necessary to have some heavy equipment," Eroek said. "We first installed fixed monitors."

The Buncefield fire near London consumed 20 storage tanks. One major reason for that is that the water supply for fixed systems was destroyed in the initial explosion. Taking that into consideration, Amsterdam airport officials have shifted the fire protection emphasis to mobile systems, Eroek said.

"We began running tests in April and everything worked perfectly," he said. "We plan to be operational by October of this year. For training, we will be sending those higher in command to witness actual live fire fighting exercises in the coming months."

That is why Eroek attended the Williams F&HC foam school.

The Amsterdam airport brigade consists of three fire stations, each equipped with three crash trucks. Eight of those trucks are E-One Titans carrying 12,500 liters of water and foam. The brigade has 136 full-time firefighters, assuring that seven responders are at each station around the clock.

"We also have a structural fire fighting unit of six people who react to alarms in the terminal," Eroek said.

The brigade will shortly be taking delivery on a Williams F&HC Ambassador monitor and a high capacity pump. With this equipment, the brigade will be a participating member in a new mutual aid organization being started to better protect Amsterdam industries.

"We are cooperating with several oil storage terminals in the Amsterdam port area, including BP," Eroek said. "They have Ambassadors and high capacity pumps as well."

The most important information Eroek will be taking home is about the tactics of fighting fire in large diameter storage tanks, he said.

"Having the high capacity monitors and pumps is one thing," Eroek said. "But learning the tactics involved in the Footprint and using react lines, that's the important thing."

Ben Trail, head of the fire brigade for the New Zealand Refining Company may have come the farthest to attend the school. He brought with him several members of the New Zealand fire service as well.

"We came because of Dwight Williams' reputation," Trail said.

Trail's facility, located in Marsden Point north of Auckland, is the country's only oil refinery. The largest storage tank measures 150 feet (74 meters) across.

"The brigade has a permanent staff of 14," Trail said. "The station is manned 24 hours a day. Every operator at the plant is trained in fire fighting. There is also a volunteer fire brigade made up of electricians, engineers and other people who can double as firefighters when we need them."

The New Zealand party attending the foam school included Ken Rivers, CEO of New Zealand Refining Company, who chaired the joint industry/regulator Buncefield Standards Task Group defining industry action to prevent another Buncefield type incident.

"We have a need for this type of training and to keep up with modern technologies and techniques," Trail said. "We also have to listen to people like Dwight Williams who have actually put out these types of fires. Their experience is invaluable to us."

Another distant country with a representative at the foam school was Nigeria. Iyke Ebele Amanfo is a services engineer with Ebby-Tek Services in Eket, providing firefighting services and equipment to Exxon-Mobil.

The equipment of choice for his 25 member firefighting team is Williams F&HC Hydro-Chem technology, he said.

"The most important thing I learned about here was safety," Amanfo said. "I learned that it is always best to fight fire from a distance."

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