In St. James Parish in south Louisiana it rains more than 60 inches a year. But even in such a damp climate an arc of 29,567 gallons per minute of water cutting across the October sky was staggering to behold.
The record-setting flow coordinated by the Louisiana Emergency Resources Supply Network, also known as the Hired Gun Gang, served to test the output of heavy-caliber fire fighting nozzles designed by Williams Fire & Hazard Control and widely used by industry throughout the state. As impressive as was the sight of that much water traveling through the air, even more impressive was the cooperation shown by so many different companies participating in the test, said Roy Robichaux, fire chief of British Petroleum in Belle Chase, LA.
"It was amazing to me to see that many people from so many different plants working together that well," Robichaux said.
Greg Galliano, fire chief with Loop, Inc. in Cutoff, LA, is a long-time member of the gang. In a mutual aid organization such as the Hired Gun Gang it is important to know the other members' key players and the extent of their expertise, he said.
"In this business you make friends before you need them," Galliano said. "Getting together to test equipment gives us a chance to know each others capabilities."
The 29,567 gpm flow achieved beat the previous record of 22,000 gallons set in Texas in 1994.
"We were all confident we could achieve it," said Jerry Craft, manager of Williams Fire & Hazard Control's training and consulting division. "But, then again, we were in awe of how impressive the operation was after we physically witnessed it."
The test was performed at the St. James Boat Club on the Blind River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Used were two 14,000 gpm Big Foot? nozzles, one 6,000 gpm Six-Gun? and one 2,000 gpm Hydro-Chem? nozzle, all products of Williams Fire and Hazard Control. Fire ground logistics and the hose lay out determined how much flowed through each nozzle. To reach 29,567 gpm, the firefighters flowed 12,000 and 10,000 gallons per minute through the two Big Foot? nozzles, respectively. Added to this was 2,000 gpm flowed through the Hydro-Chem? nozzle and 5,567 gpm flowed through the Six-Gun?.
Twelve pumps, the largest of which was rated at 6,000 gpm, drew river water for the test. A 9,000 foot network of 5-inch hose fed water to the nozzles. In the interest of water conservation, the peak arc was limited to about a 100 foot elevation covering a distance of between 275 to 400 feet for the various size monitors that were used.
Three different groups worked to check and double-check the flow during the test so that the results were technically confirmed, Craft said.
"The Hired Gun Gang wasn't necessarily trying to beat that (29,567 gpm) record but was trying to confirm that we could achieve the 28,000 gallons-plus it would take to combat one of the worst case scenarios that we face in the Louisiana area," Craft said. "That would be to combat a 325 foot diameter storage tank totally involved."
Concern about how best to deal with emergencies bigger than a single plant brigade could handle brought the Hired Gun Gang into being in 1987. Several major refineries, chemical plants, Williams Fire & Hazard Control, and 3M Fire Protection Systems joined together to form an organization that would provide mutual assistance in the use of large volume delivery devices. Among the other founding members were Citgo's Lake Charles plant, Marathon Oil in Garyville and LOOP, Inc. These companies had adopted Williams fire fighting technology, such as the 2,000 gpm Hired Gun?, the first generation of large volume delivery devices.
"The name `Hired Gun Gang' gave our little group some identity so that we would all join hands and help each other," Craft said. "We had all adopted this technology and methodology for dealing with large flammable liquid fires such as tank fires. So we joined together outside our own mutual aid organizations to put together a response group to support each other in times of need."
That Williams technology was put to the test on several important occasions in those early years. On Christmas Day 1989, the Hired Gun Group was on hand to help fight an explosion and fire at Exxon's Baton Rouge plant that spread through 16 storage tanks. Hampering efforts to bring the fire under control were abnormal subfreezing temperatures that froze the water supply for fire fighting in above-ground mains. The Hired Gun Gang was also on hand for the Labor Day 1991 large-diameter tank fire at Marathon in Garyville and, extending its influence into Texas, the 1988 fire at the Chevron plant in Port Arthur.
"Within the first four years of the Hired Gun Gang's existence other people saw and heard about how effective the Williams technology was," Craft said. "That and how effective the Hired Gun relationship was with all the knowledge we had acquired. More companies wanted to be players in it. It ended up growing into a network of more than 15 companies.
"The intent was not to out play or replace any of the mutual aid organizations that these companies were part of, but to add to the fire protection and support available in a time of major crisis," Craft said.
At that time, the Williams' 2,000 gpm Hired Gun? monitor was the largest flowing piece of fire fighting equipment available on the market. From there, Williams progressed to the 6,000 gpm Six Gun?, and the 14,000 gpm Big Foot?. Also, in the early 1990s, Williams' HydroChem? technology was developed to extend the reach of dry chemicals for use in extinguishing "three-dimensional" pressurized flammable liquid fires such as firefighters faced in the Chevron and Exxon fires, Craft said.
Today, the Hired Gun Gang members meet twice a year to share information and review recent incidents. The gang has a emergency response drill simulation once a year.
Hired Gun members who sponsored the flow test include British Petroleum, Chevron, Citgo, Conoco, Cytec, Dow Chemical, Dyn McDermott, Exxon, LOOP, Locap, Marathon Oil, Mobil Oil, Shell Oil, Star Enterprise, Union Carbide (the Norco and Taft, LA, plants) and Williams Fire & Hazard Control. Participating in an emergency response drill held together with the flow test was the St. James Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness, the St. James Parish Sheriff's Department, the Louisiana State Police and Acadian Ambulance.