Is your brigade ready for the worst that can happen?
Volume 24, No. 1
What exactly is the titular 'industrial fire world' of which this publication so proudly boasts? Not surprisingly, it extends far beyond the heavily insulated folks aboard the big red trucks who meet the flames head on. It includes every aspect of plant operations that has some stake in emergency response, right down to the lonely guy who checks the fire extinguishers and hydrants. It includes every company that provides resources to deal with emergencies, ranging from neat window punchers small enough to hang from key rings to heavy duty rescue trucks with the latest independent front suspension and side roll protection.
Almost a quarter century ago, a considerably younger and much lighter David White (yours truly) decided it would be a good idea to give all these people a common identity in keeping with their common purpose. Industrial Fire World came into being, both as a magazine and as an annual conference and exposition. It brought together a community of industrial emergency responders from around the world to share problems and disseminate solutions. A fire brigade built with the philosophy of every firefighter acting on their own instead of as a team is doomed to failure. Likewise, an industrial emergency response community that jealously guards secrets instead of sharing valuable experience dooms itself to failure.
Still, it is often hard to get companies to look beyond proprietary interests long enough to understand the necessity of cooperation in industrial fire fighting. When it comes to attending a conference such as IFW a fire chief is likely to hear the following from his plant manager - "Well, I don't know if I can justify the time or the money." Look at it the other way. If your plant is hit by disaster, either man made or natural, how can you justify not having spent the time or money. Protecting yourself and your facility against such emergencies is not a decision that can be made retroactively. Not acting in anticipation of a potential disaster can be just as damning as incompetence when the event occurs.
Industrial emergencies can consume millions of dollars in property in seconds. By comparison, spending a relatively small amount to send your people to the IFW conference might hold the key to preventing or limiting such a calamity. Our conference affords the chance to attend unique presentations available in no other venue. Every year IFW comes up with speakers addressing spectacular fires and explosions that somehow never made the network or cable news. Techniques unique to one cutting edge fire brigade are made available to all. Despite the cut throat competition of the market place, industrial emergency response promotes the greatest possible good for the greatest number of those competitors. A united front on emergency response issues is likely to become much more crucial as our country battles to put its economy back on a paying basis.
About the time that IFW came into being, I served as an expert witness in a legal case that involved the deaths of eight industrial firefighters, still the record in our field. Needless to say, it should never have happened. That does not change the fact that it did. Then came the lawyers. For 17 weeks, plant management was grilled over a slow flame in court. Every piece of evidence that could put the fire chief and his superiors in a bad light was dragged before the judge. However, that plant management and that fire chief persevered. They were able to prove in court that their fire brigade had been effectively trained to perform the key tasks needed the day of the disaster.
If something terrible happened at your plant, can you place your hand on the Bible and swear that your fire brigade had been adequately trained for the threat faced that day? Attending the best industrial emergency conference in the world certainly adds weight to the argument in your favor.