Article Archive
Taking the Honors
Distinguished firefighters lauded during IFW conference
Volume 25, No. 2

Hugh Billings of Oxea Chemicals, Mark Cummins of CAFSCO and Les Powell of Westlake Vinyls took top honors at award ceremonies conducted during the 25th?annual Industrial Fire World Emergency Responder Conference & Expo held in February in Baton Rouge, LA.

Billings, manager of health, safety and operations at Oxea's Bay City, TX, plant, received the Red Adair Award, the only fire fighting award to bear the name of Paul N. "Red" Adair, a legendary figure in the field of controlling oil well fires and blowouts.

"I don't know if I deserve this but I certainly accept it with great honor," Billings told the conference's general session audience.

David White, president of IFW, identified Billings as being on hand for many of the largest industrial fires reported in the Houston area, including the Pasadena chemical complex explosion and fire in October 1989. He is also the only chief to have successfully extinguished an ethylene oxide fire.

Dwight Williams, a leader in extinguishing bulk flammable liquid storage fires, spoke briefly about the person whose name the award bears.

"There is not a better example of a person who built a reputation worthy of such an award than Red Adair," Williams said.

A name that figures prominently in the history of IFW is Joe Gross, president of The Roberts Company of Framingham, MA, specializing in collectors' items designed for firefighters. The Joe Gross Award, presented to Cummins, recognizes innovators in the industrial fire services.

Cummins is credited with the invention of compressed air foam systems (CAFS), a device that uses compressed air added to a foam solution to generate a rich, thick fire fighting foam blanket. Today, nearly 30 percent of the fire trucks in the U.S. carry CAFS.

"He did something that is changing the way we fight fire and a lot of you don't know that he did it," White said.

In 1977, Cummins demonstrated his CAFS idea for White who, in turn, put Cummins in touch with the Texas Forest Service. As a TFS employee, Cummins found the time and resources to develop the first CAFS devices for use in wildland fire fighting.

"I really appreciate this award very much," Cummins said.

Gross, 94, was unavailable to present the award personally, the first time in IFW history he has not been on hand for the conference and expo.

The Connie Award, given to Powell, is named for Gross' late wife Connie. It is presented to those in the industrial fire service who have taken a leadership role behind the scenes. Powell is senior safety coordinator and emergency response coordinator at Westlake Vinyls in Geismar, LA.

"This award is for your dedication, your volunteerism and the many other things you have done," White said. "He is a fulltime industrial fire and safety person and a volunteer firefighter and paramedic. We want to thank him for what he has done for industry and fire protection in the community he serves."

White found himself briefly in the spotlight when his wife Lynn introduced a special PowerPoint presentation about his history in the fire service.

"I don't know how many of you know that last July we almost lost this guy," she said, referring to his recent heart bypass surgery. "It made me so proud to know that I have had over half my life to share with David and learn from him. I just wanted to share a few things about his life with you so that you can help us celebrate where we are."

As for the future, industry continues to provide IFW with ample material for its pages - unfortunately, White said.

"People tell me all the time, 'Well, David, we don't have fires in industry anymore, do we?'" White said. "Go look at the incident log in our magazine every other month. There is a whole page of them, and we don't even pretend to cover them all. IFW's editor, Anton Riecher, said 'Well, we've got to cut the list off somewhere.'"


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