Article Archive
Dave's Notes
Urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors and misinformation is a bad foundation for dealing with a monster storage tank fire.
Volume 25, No. 2

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.

Winston Churchill

No expiration date exists for bad information. All the wondrous systems mankind has devised to manage data still cannot tell the difference between a truth and a lie. Thanks to the Internet, dishonest footnotes cited to buttress dodgy conclusions reanimate too many factual distortions or, worse, outright lies.

Under the category of bulk flammable liquid fire fighting, one recently reincarnated canard traces its origins back to June 2001. A vicious tropical storm sweeping the Gulf Coast set the stage for one of the seminal events in modern industrial emergency response - the successful extinguishment of a burning jumbo storage tank with substantial product saved.

Torrential rains sank the floating roof on a 270-foot diameter gasoline storage tank at what was then the Orion refinery in Norco, LA. Before the refinery's emergency response team could apply a protective foam blanket, lightning ignited the contents. The owners then called in Williams Fire & Hazard Control, the established leaders in this specialized area of fire fighting.

Within 13 hours, the fire was out. Under perfect conditions, this achievement would have been staggering. With the degree of difficulty inflicted by the continuing tropical storm, the extinguishment at Norco was nothing short of miraculous.

Every one of the 200 firefighters from local volunteers to mutual aid responders deserved a share of the credit. I say that with first hand knowledge as someone who participated in that operation. To quote Shakespeare, anyone who missed that party "shall think themselves accursed" that they were not there.

Telling lies to your buddies over a beer about being at the big fire is one thing. Stretching the truth about foam and equipment is something else. In August 2002, a prominent fire journal published that "more than 60,000 gallons of National Foam's Universal Plus AR-AFFF foam" was used at the Orion Refinery fire.

This runs counter to coverage in IFW that quoted Orion Fire Chief J.R. Chidester and then WF&HC president Dwight Williams.

At Orion, Williams agreed with Chidester's recommendation to use AFFF/ATC to extinguish the fire, the IFW article states. But due to weather related problems along the Gulf Coast, other refineries needed foam too.

With the help of WF&HC and the Louisiana Emergency Resources Supply Network, also known as the Hired Gun Gang, nearly 60,000 gallons of AFFF/ATC was located. None of it was National Foam.

After extinguishment, a separate fire fighting contractor maintained a foam blanket on the exposed fuel. The brand of foam used to maintain that blanket is anyone's guess.

Unfortunately, this foam myth has arisen again with renewed references made to the erroneous August 2002 article. It is entirely possible that the tale will eventually reach urban legend status, at which time we will turn the whole matter over to Adam and Jamie at "Mythbusters."

Industrial Fire World stands by its version of the event.? I was there and know the facts first hand. Our account has been confirmed by then area fire chiefs Roy Robichaux and Lloyd Schexnayder who were also on hand.

Another mechanism for mangling the truth is bureaucracy. E-95 is a blend of 95 percent ethanol and five percent gasoline. Ethanol shipped to terminals is blended this way to keep it from fueling alcoholism instead of cars.

A friend from Long Island, NY, called the other day to ask where he could buy "E-95 foam." His local fire marshal insists that every fuel terminal needs it to protect their facility.

True, foams without an alcohol resistant polymer are inadequate to extinguish E-95 fires. But there is no such thing as E-95 foam.

Now my friend must confront this ill-informed but powerful official who has no clue about the difference between ethanol fuel and alcohol resistant foam.

With regard to the truth, when in doubt, verify. Check out the facts before swallowing the bait or drinking the Kool-Aid.


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