In March, a violent lightning storm swept through the Beaumont-Port Arthur area in Texas, causing a power outage that triggered a brief flash fire at a local 285,000 bpd refinery. If those attending the annual Industrial Fire World Emergency Responder Conference & Exposition in Beaumont that same week needed any reminder about their mission, God provided it.
Industrial Fire World chairman David White spoke specifically about that mission in a general session address to the attendees.
"Industrial Fire World came about because there was a group of fire people in industry that said it would be great if we could get together and share our information, knowledge and experience," he said. "Because today, like any other day, you never know what's going to happen."
With that goal in mind, IFW once again brought together the leading experts and the cutting edge technology that is moving emergency response forward in dealing with the risks that must be safely managed in modern industry.
Leading this year's agenda were seminars, workshops and live fire demonstrations on subjects as diverse as new fuels such as LNG and ethanol, incident command, tunnel and coal fire incidents, marine fire fighting and water delivery. An exhibit hall filled with products essential for industrial emergencies -- electronics, protective clothing, fire fighting foam, training, nozzles -- stirred the important exchange of ideas.
Beaumont mayor Becky Ames greeted the attendees during the general session of the third consecutive IFW conference held locally. "It's always another great day in Beaumont and with you folks here it certainly is," she said.
Testifying to IFW standing in the industrial fire community worldwide was the winner of the 2009 Red Adair Award, named for the acknowledged master of extinguishing oil well fires. The award was presented to John Nimmo who recently retired after 45 years in the fire service, the last 27 years of which were with BP in ADMA OPCO on DAS Island, Abu Dhabi.
Das Island is the centre of the UAE's offshore oil industry, lying in the heart of the Arabian Gulf, approximately 140 km north-west of Abu Dhabi. The island serves as the export terminal for ADMA OPCO's oil from their offshore fields and for liquefied natural gas produced by the Abu Dhabi Gas Liquefaction Company (ADGAS), both of which are part of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, ADNOC.
During Nimmo's years at the helm, the $23 billion Das Island facility has never had a major fire it could not deal with, White said.
Ewen Duncan, a section leader on the Das Island brigade, accepted the award for Nimmo, who could not attend.
"During John's career, he has always endeavored to immulate the following, which has proved to be adventagous over his 27 year career," Duncan said. "For the successful performance of his duty, a firefighter must value his profession and have a devotion that rises above material rewards."
Joe Gross of the Roberts Company, celebrating his 90th birthday, attended the conference to personnally present two awards he annually sponsors -- the Joe Gross Award and the Connie Award, in honor of his late wife. Representatives of the Texas Engineering Extension Service -- Kirk Richardson, program manager for marine fire fighting; Mike Wisby, business development manager and Robert Moore, associate director -- were presented with the Joe Gross Award in recognition of TEEX's work with BP to establish an LNG training and research center at the Texas A&M University fire school.
"I'm so happy to be here to recognize these people for their leadership in this important area of testing and fire training," Gross said.
Accepting the Connie Award honoring vision and knowledge in the industrial fire fighting field was Chris Frasier, director of fire and emergency services for WSI, a leading provider of fire-rescue services. Nearly 1,300 firefighters work for Frasier, including 700 stationed in Iraq to protect military facilities.
"Chief Frasier is the chief's chief," Gross said. "Anything you want to know about industrial fire suppression, Chief Frasier knows it."
Frasier said the award came as a complete surprise. "I'm extremely honored to receive this," he said.
Filling out the opening day general session were presentation by three notable fire service speakers. Fire protection engineer J. Gordon Routley served as project leader in the post incident assessment of the June 2007 Sofa Super Store flashover fire and structural collapse in Charleston, NC, that killed nine firefighters.
"It is important in looking at this to focus on the things that could apply to us in our own environments," Routley said. The Routley report was blunt in its assessment of the disaster.
"The Charleston Fire Department was inadequately staffed, inadequately trained, insufficiently equipped, and organizationally unprepared to conduct an operation of this complexity in a large commercial occupancy," the report said. However, he emphasized to the IFW audience that any fire department is capable of some of the same mistakes made in Charleston.
William B. Wark, a member of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, reported on the CSB's investigation of a massive fire that injured four workers at refinery in Sunray, TX, in February 2007. CSB ruled that the fire likely occurred after water leaked through a valve, froze, and cracked an out-of-service section of piping, causing a high-pressure liquid propane release.
The CSB is an independent government agency modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board. Out of an agency staff of 40, about half are investigators, Wark said.
"What we do is investigate accidents in the chemical industry, determine the root causes and make recommendations," Wark said. "Our goal is prevention."
The CSB's final report concluded the root causes of the Sunray accident were that the refinery did not have an effective program to identify and freeze-protect piping and equipment that was out of service or infrequently used; that the refinery did not apply the company's policies on emergency isolation valves to control fires; and that current industry and company standards do not recommend sufficient structural steel fireproofing against jet fires.
Los Angeles County Fire Department Battalion Chief Bruce Arvizu reported on a February 2009 fire in a 679-foot tunnel used to move petroleum coke beneath a busy rail corridor. (See page 14 for specific coverage of the fire.) The tunnel ties together a 265,000-barrel per day refinery, among the largest in California. Splitting the 630-acre refinery is a 20-mile freight expressway known as the Alameda Corridor that links the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to the downtown Los Angeles rail network.
Also discussed more extensively (see page 28) is a contingent from Port of Rotterdam investigating crude oil boilovers.
Live fire demonstrations are another important part of the conference schedule. Utilizing the facilities of the Beaumont Emergency Services Training Complex, a two-day liquefied natural gas symposium during the conference concluded with 3,000 gallons of LNG being emptied into a special containment pit. A fire hose stream was used to excite the LNG and increase vaporization. Meanwhile, a firefighter with a road flare on a long pole was dispatched downwind.
Igniting the vapor cloud was not easy, White explained. The visible vapor is far too rich to ignite in most cases. The flammable area extends far beyond the visible vapor but finding it is a process of trial and error. After ignition a 500 to one high expansion foam cover is added to the pit to reduce vaporization. The foam causes the remaining vapors to rise vertically away from ground level ignition sources. PKW, a dry chemical, was used to obtain rapid knockdown of the flames.
Another live fire demonstration involved Pittsburgh Corning's Foamglas product. Highly buoyant bags of Foamglas cubes rise immediately to the surface of a shallow LNG pool. With ignition, the cubes are released from the bags and quickly limit thermal radiation and flame height.
German based fire foam manufacturer Dr. Sthamer-Hamburg demonstrated its high performance, low viscosity alcohol resistant AFFF foam known as Moussol APS LV1x1. A shallow pan of ethanol was ignited. Because ethanol is an alcohol it literally eats traditional AFFF fire foam. However, the Dr. Sthamer foam has an (1x1) induction ratio of one percent for hydrocarbon fuels and one percent polar solvents/alcohols.
An indirect application of the foam to the ethanol fire allowed it to form a polymeric membrane, choking the flames.
Portland, OR, based International Fog demonstrated its rotating piercing nozzle which makes water pressurized from 50 psi to 225 psi disburse into a fine particulate mist. The mist extinguished the fire without pushing flames into important areas. Inventor Eugene Ivy tested the nozzle against a wood pallet fire, a pool fire and a liquid propane jet fire. Tracking the temperature and fire pattern changes during the fire fighting demonstration was Cochran Fire Safety, using thermal imaging equipment.