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Premium Blend
CITGO brings together contract firefighters with volunteers at Lake Charles
Volume 24, No. 4

CITGO Petroleum Corp. prides itself on blending and delivering quality fuels. At its Lake Charles, LA, refinery, the fourth largest in the nation, the emergency response team prides itself on blending contract personnel, shift employees and volunteers into a coherent, cohesive fire fighting unit.

Chris Dailey serves as acting site manager and training coordinator for Rural Metro at the Lake Charles refinery. Rural Metro provides contract ambulance and emergency services to 450 communities across North America and Latin America.

"It doesn't matter to me whether the responder works for CITGO or Rural Metro," Dailey said. "When it comes to working as a team, you work as a team."

Starting in 2000, about 20 contract firefighters with Rural Metro joined the CITGO Lake Charles ERT. Working together with them are 15 shift ERT members on site at all times. Add to this an 80-member volunteer ERT team, operators and other refinery personnel who, like the Rural Metro firefighters, carry automatically activated pagers to notify them of an emergency. Today, the Rural Metro personnel on the Lake Charles ERT numbers 27.

Rounding out the ERT is a ten member support team, 16 safety and industrial hygiene personnel trained in emergency response, a 20 member rescue team and 20 hazardous materials technicians.

CITGO's Lake Charles complex is located on 2,000 acres along the banks of the Calcasieu Ship Channel. The facility employs about 1,200 regular, full-time employees. Processing capacity exceeds 425,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

The CITGO Lake Charles refinery is a deep-conversion refinery, producing the full range of petroleum and petrochemical products - gasoline, jet/turbine fuel, diesel, benzene, propylene, coke and sulfur. The facility's lubricant and wax plant recently curtailed operations.

At the top of the CITGO Lake Charles ERT command structure is emergency response supervisor Martin Powell.

"We have worked together to not only tailor the organization to CITGO Lake Charles but make it a more respected organization in the industry," Powell said. "We are proud of these guys. We want them to have pride in their jobs. The more pride they have in their jobs, the more ownership they have and the better they are going to be."

Before bringing in the contract firefighters, the CITGO Lake Charles ERT operated much the same as plant and refinery ERTs across the country, Powell said.

"If we combined safety and fire we had maybe 14 guys total," he said. "The rest of the ERT were operators, maintenance people, people in the field for whom this was not their primary job. It was not that we didn't have good people but this was not their profession."

Powell defined the former emergency response team as a "forced ERT."

"Your primary job is the unit," Powell said. "If your boss said, 'No, you don't go,' you didn't go."

Volunteer membership was far less than it is today, he said.

"Those volunteers were special people," Powell said. "It was in their heart. They wanted to be a responder. We've always depended on this group."

Volunteer responders become particularly important when working a specialty job where additional coverage is required such as a turnaround, natural disaster or some other extended event requiring a large number of personnel, he said.

"Volunteers working with Rural Metro is a process that helps us," Powell said. "We build a better team that way, working side by side, hand in hand, getting to know each other. You know each other's needs, responsibilities and concerns. You know where your strengths are and your weaknesses too."

According to Dailey, bringing volunteers together with contract responders also affords the Lake Charles ERT a broader range of experience from which to draw.

"Probably about half of my firefighters are LSU instructor certified," Dailey said. "A lot of them serve on volunteer fire departments where they also serve as instructors. At least half of them we hired from municipalities. We pay a little more money but we expect a whole lot more out of them."

Dailey worked for the Westlake, LA, Fire Department 17 years before joining the CITGO Lake Charles ERT.

Besides fire fighting, the Lake Charles ERT cultivates expertise in EMS, hazmat, confined space and high angle rescue and spill response. Responders have many opportunities to expand their education, said Shelly Burnworth, a Lake Charles ERT Rural Metro paramedic.

"Most of our paramedics have either worked the streets for 20 years or they do part-time jobs to keep up with their continuing education," Burnworth said.

Last year, the ERT made 107 EMS calls, nearly twice the number of emergency response calls made.

In addition to a Rural Metro rescue team onsite, the Lake Charles ERT has its own volunteer rescue team. ERT volunteers and Rural Metro members also serve together on a hazmat team that, like the rescue team, requires special training.

Everybody on the Lake Charles ERT makes an annual trip to Emergency Service Training Institute at Texas A&M University for further training. Last year, the ERT trained at ESTI with the Louisiana State Police Hazardous Materials and Explosives Control Unit, which has responsibility for response to all chemical emergencies in Louisiana.

Emergency training is also an essential for CITGO personnel not belonging to the ERT, Dailey said. CITGO ERT training coordinator James Gayle has developed a program that requires operators to train as incipient firefighters.

"If you are an operator and have been out here less than five years, you have to go through incipient fire training," Dailey said. "That means no bunker gear, just fighting the fire from a distance. They can attack the fire with hose lines, monitors and fire extinguishers. We've had more than 500 employees go through training that includes using monitors, hose handling and incident command."

Despite an ERT response time of three minutes or less throughout the refinery, incipient firefighters have the key advantage of being immediately on the scene when trouble occurs, Dailey said.

"We have fixed fire equipment on the units which have really worked to our benefit," he said. "As the employees have grown more comfortable using that equipment, it has made our responses much easier. By the time we get there, they have it out or under control."

Keeping the non-ERT firefighters out of bunker gear helps reinforce their understanding of their role in an emergency, he said.

"We are teaching them what the equipment will do and what their limitations are," Dailey said. "That's part of the training developed by Gayle."

As for the ERT itself, Rural Metro and CITGO members fill the time not spent on actual emergency response with a multitude of other important chores.

"We are unique because our safety and fire group are cross trained," Powell said. "We do permitting as well as fire and safety response. We have started bringing Rural Metro into that same capacity. Rural Metro has four people that actually assist us on safety in the field. We depend on them a lot."

Rural Metro personnel are also busy with inventory and preventative maintenance of fire protection systems such as fire extinguishers, fixed monitors, fire hydrants, post indicator valves, isolation valves, deluge systems and breathing apparatus.

"They don't get a lot of down time," Powell said. "All the shifts are busy."

As for the ERT itself, the equipment list is extensive. At the top of the equipment pyramid is a 3,000 gpm pumper acquired in 2007 complete with a 6,000 gpm monitor and 2,000 gallons of foam. Designed by Powell, David Crow and Gayle, the pumper boasts internal brass plumbing to guard against salt water corrosion.

Another advantage is that all electronic controls can be bypassed manually in the event of a breakdown.

"On modern fire trucks everything is electronic," Powell said. "We asked to make sure we had a backup, a truly manual backup so that we could continue to use the truck if the electronics fail."

The Lake Charles ERT also has a 2,500 gpm pumper truck with a 1,000 gallon foam tank and a 1,500 gpm pumper with a 2,000 gallon tank. Also on hand are four RAFT (Rapid Attack Fire Truck) complete with a 300 gallon foam tank and a Williams Fire & Hazard Control Daspit tool.

"There is no pump," Dailey said. "The trucks are designed to be hooked up to a hydrant and driven to a fire to protect exposures." On one occasion, a truck suffered about $8,000 worth of damage protecting a burning unit.

The Daspit Tool is a special base that is used to take a stationary monitor and make it portable. At Lake Charles, RAFTs are used for daily inspection and other plant activities. RAFTs are equipped with Daspits that can be removed as needed for tank fire applications.

"What we do is hook up the five-inch discharge to get the monitor flowing, then put the truck where we want," Dailey said.

The ERT fleet also includes two hose reel trucks with two reels each delivering about 3,000 feet of 10-inch hose and 4,000 feet of five-inch hose. Still another hose reel trailer boasts an additional 1,000 feet of 10-inch hose.

Owing to its proximity to the ship channel, the Lake Charles ERT also maintains a fleet of marine spill response boats that can deploy nearly 4,000 feet of river containment booms on short notice. Actual clean up is handled by an outside contractor.

Regardless of status of ERT members as contract personnel, company employees or volunteers, Dailey said he considers them all to be "a team of professionals dedicated to protecting life and property."

Bringing together the differing job titles with multiple responsibilities has not always been easy, Dailey said.

Since the inception of this partnership in 2000, there have been some growing pains, he said.

"Everybody goes through growing pains," Dailey said. "We have worked through them to develop a great team."


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