Firefighters in training during the recent 47th annual Industrial Fire School conducted at Brayton Fire Training Field in College Station, TX, answered to their team commanders who, in turn, answered to the project leaders. And everyone took orders from field safety supervisor David Stanley, former fire chief at Alcoa's Rockdale, TX, plant.
"I make sure everybody has their equipment on and things are going okay," Stanley said. "I have the authority to shut the project down if I see things going wrong."
This year's school conducted by the Texas Engineering Extension Service hosted 466 firefighters from refineries and other industries from across the country and around the world.Brayton is recognized as the world's largest live-fire fueled training facility with more than 100 specific training sites. The facilities are life-sized combustible replicas, representing everything from oil tankers to refineries.
The Industrial School is the second of three weeklong annual firefighter training schools hosted by TEEX each summer. This summer, 682 firefighters and 190 guest instructors from 15 countries attended the 40th Annual Spanish Fire School. This year's Municipal School had nearly 2,300 registered emergency responders from the state's smallest volunteer fire departments to those serving the largest metropolitan areas, in addition to more than 500 guest instructors. Courses range from basic and advanced fire fighting to rescue operations and fire officer development.
More than 200 highly qualified guest instructors and speakers from industrial and manufacturing companies train the emergency responders through the extensive classroom and hands-on exercises. Many of these instructors donate their time, services and expenses to ensure that firefighters are adequately prepared to respond to various industrial emergencies.
The fire props - simulating a variety of petrochemical plant scenarios - are among the largest in the world. These include a process unit, pump alley, aerial cooler, loading terminal, rail tank loading rack and multiple LPG scenarios.
Because the schools are conducted during the summer, the potential for heat stress gets close attention. Although Stanley did not have to exercise his ultimate authority to shut down a training project this year, he has done it in the past.
"Several years ago I had to shut one down because it got too hot and the firefighters were out there too long," Stanley said. "They couldn't get the fire out and kept trying until people began falling out."
Field safety supervisors soon learn the tell tale signs that accompany heat stress, Stanley said.
"You can tell by the way people are acting," he said. "They get quiet.You can tell by the way they are breathing or how they don't pay attention. You know there is a problem when everybody else goes to lunch and these guys just stay in the shade."
Stanley was promoted to field safety after five years as a project instructor. With the closing of Alcoa's Rockdale smelter, Stanley transferred to the company's Point Comfort, TX, plant where he serves as a fire brigade volunteer. Still, he enjoys attending the school at Brayton.
"I have a lot of friends up here," Stanley said. "I like to see people learn. These young guys are going to take my place some day, and I want them to be able to do the job."
Don Theus, retired from Union Carbide's Seadrift, TX, plant in 1998, is another long-time industrial fire school veteran serving as a field safety instructor. He has been an instructor since 1972.
"I came here as an instructor in 1969," Theus said. "All the classroom sessions were conducted at the Ramada Inn. We'd come out, work a half day on the fire field, then shower and go to the classroom. Thank God you spend all day in one place or the other now."
Among this year's students were Steve Carter, an operator at Marathon Oil's 226,000 barrels per day Catlettsburg, KY, refinery. Carter, who also serves as a firefighter, was attending the annual school for the second time. Marathon in Catlettsburg sent a contingent of 23 firefighters, including firefighters with the city's municipal fire department.
"We try to send somebody at least every other year," Carter said. "We have eight taking Firefighter II, 10 or so taking Firefighter I and one guy in the rescue class."
David Gonzalez of El Paso Field Services, operators of a natural gas pipeline system, was a first time student. Assigned to a field office in Del Valle, TX, near Austin, Gonzalez said his company wanted him to acquire new skills.
"You never know what could happen," Gonzalez said. "We've got a compressor station in Bandera and we are going to put one in Hillville. You never know when you might need someone who knows about fire fighting out there."
Among the international visitors was Leopoldo Abeso Esve, working with Marathon Oil in Equatorial Guinea. Marathon has extensive holdings in LPG and LNG in that country. Esve, a first time visitor to Brayton, said he was impressed by the emphasis on organization in fire operations.
"Incident command is important," Esve said. "The incident commander is the man in charge of the mission."