How the Cow Ate the Cabbage
Telling the manager about stuff he might not want to hear
Volume 22, No. 6
In Texas, we've got a saying - "That's how the cow ate the cabbage." It indicates that the speaker is laying it on the line about an important subject, regardless of whether the person being told wants to know.
Legend has it that an escaped elephant wandered into a simple old country woman's garden one day. She watched in awe as the beast pulled up her cabbages one by one and ate them. She called the police, but not having seen an elephant before she reported that a cow was pulling up her cabbages with its tail.
"What's it doing with them?" the surprised dispatcher asked.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you!" she replied.
The kind of guts it takes to battle a burning process unit or jumbo storage tank is one thing. But the true test of courage for an industrial fire chief comes when it's time to tell the plant manager, in no uncertain terms, how the cow ate the cabbage. Whether or not he believes you, it's important you make some effort to communicate the real situation as best you understand it.
It's hard to believe that the vast cathedrals to enterprise that we call plants, factories, foundries, mills and refineries are today being operated by less people with less experience than ever before. The one constant factor in this devolution is risk. No matter how radical the downsizing, we still have leaks and spills, fires and explosions. True, we have a better record for prevention today but, while reduced, the risk is still there.
Innovation in industrial fire fighting means finding ways to do more with fewer personnel. That may mean having 3,000 gpm fixed monitors with foam surrounding the operation instead of just 500 gpm monitors. It may mean having a fire water system that will flow 10,000 or 15,000 gpm instead of 3,000 gpm. There may be a greater reliance on radio controlled equipment.
We now have new replacements for Halon that function almost as well with no impact on the environment. The protective clothing available is as good or better than we've ever had before. Electronics have given us the means to detect fumes at a distance. Thermal imaging cameras can peer into the heart of a burning storage tank to determine how close it is to a cataclysmic boilover. Our fire trucks are 3,000 to 5,000 gpm behemoths pumping through six- and seven-inch hose. Large diameter hose is now available in sizes as large as 12-inch diameter.
The fire chief has to factor all these new technologies together into a game plan before taking his case to the plant manager. "Boss, once upon a time we had a 200-person fire brigade. Today we have a 30-person brigade. On the other hand, we have to contend with bigger process units and storage tanks. The way to deal with the problem is update to large pumps, large-diameter hose, large nozzles and better foams than we had before."
Those of you who would like to see these innovations need only wait until next April. The Industrial Fire World Emergency Responder Conference & Exposition will be held April 28 through May 2, 2008, in Beaumont, TX. You will see new, exciting penetrating nozzles that can push a hole through 12 inches of concrete, then produce a mist so fine it practically floats.
Compressed air foam systems are now being utilized in loading rack fire protection. Also at the conference will be the latest in handling ethanol fires. Since ethanol will shortly become a component in every gallon of gasoline burned in this country, ethanol fire fighting, either industrial or domestic, is going to be critically important. There will be cutting edge technology such as the Stinger RF nozzle. RF stands for radio frequency. The nozzle can automatically sweep back and forth, the stream adjusting from broad to narrow and back again.
Beside innovation, the conference will also focus on regional readiness. How do you combine the regional response capability of municipal and industrial firefighters into one unified force ready to react when the legendary "big one" happens in your neighborhood? The program for the conference is available here.
Some day you may have to tell the boss how the cow ate the cabbage. At Industrial Fire World, we have the "cow," the "cabbage" and everything else you'll need. You will hopefully leave the conference with a better grip on the innovations available in the field. Also, you will leave better equipped personally to work with management and recognize those unmentionable "elephants" that linger around your plant. As risks become realities, your team will be ready with the best you can provide them.