Large-diameter fire hose's legacy
Volume 24 Number3
Yes, the economy is contracting. Factory orders continue to fall. Companies are slashing output to curb inventory. That, together with declines in business investment, continues to drag down the gross domestic product. Industrial emergency responders once again face the painful question of how to do the same job with less money, people and resources.
The question is hardly a new one. Fire chiefs, emergency response and HSSE managers in plants and refineries have been making do with less and less for decades. Downsizing in industry, at least some industries, has been a painful fact of life. While payrolls shrank, the risks stayed the same - hazardous materials in huge volumes waiting to escape or combust.
Technology creates problems. And, if managed correctly, technology can help cope with those problems. A fire chief is faced with the problem of moving 10,000 gallons per minute of water from Point A to Point B. The plant's fire water system will only move 2,000 gpm. On anybody's calculator, the chief is short 8,000 gpm. He has two choices. One, let Point B burn down. Management likely will not view this in a favorable light. Or, two, employ proven technology to supplement the fire water system and attack the fire.
As a small town firefighter in the 1960s, I remember the jaw dropping awe of upgrading from 2?-inch hose to three-inch hose. Suddenly, instead of 250 gpm you could move 500 gpm and even use the same couplings. Then those crazy people that eventually get to be known as visionaries started talking about hose even bigger than three inch. One visionary was Chief Henry
D. Smith who led the Texas Engineering Extension Service's former fire protection training division from 1957 to 1986.
I went to work for Chief Smith at Texas A&M University in the 1970s when he first attempted to introduce this new technology. He had the money to buy a pumper for the fire school. He chose one that had six-inch intakes and a six-inch discharge. Outside the famous New York City Superpumper, nobody had a six-inch discharge. Chief
Smith's pumper had a 1,250 gpm pump. Thanks to the pipe configuration and large discharge, it was able to draft 2,200 gpm. It was quite an accomplishment in its time.
Chief Smith also bought six-inch hose for the pumper, complete with this new fangled coupling called Stortz. Now all you needed to move about 3,000 gpm from Point A to Point B was one hose. Still, large-diameter hose was a hard sell. Municipal fire departments that often operated without a ready supply of water were more likely to invest in it than industrial firefighters who always had a fire hydrant within easy reach.
Then, in October 1989, a massive chemical complex in Pasadena, TX, exploded. Houston's Channel Industry Mutual Aid, the world's largest mutual aid organization, found itself facing the worst industrial disaster since Texas City in 1947 and no water to fight the fire. The explosion had sheared away the hydrants at ground level.
The only recourse was large-diameter hose to bring water in from the Houston Ship Channel and other locations. I was teaching a safety class at a neighboring plant the day of the explosion. Working with a CIMA liaison, my job became tracking down all the large-diameter hose within a 100 mile radius.
After the Pasadena fire, large diameter took off like a mad bat. From five- and six-inch, we progressed to 7? inch, eight inch, 10 inch and, today, we have adapted 12 inch as the unofficial minimum standard. Large-diameter hose has proven to be a very efficient method of delivering water in large quantities. If you have not availed yourself of this technology, the question is "Why not?" See those who out it to good use. Then make your decision.
Now ask yourself, what other innovation technologies am I overlooking. This issue describes how CAFS are being used in industrial fire situations to put some fires out faster with less runoff and other environmental impacts. At the 2009 IFW conference we saw new breathing apparatus, video technology for tracking fires and vapor changes and hearing protection for emergency workers, to name a few.
Plan now for the 25th IFW Conference, Feb. 23-26, 2010, in Baton Rouge to keep pace with innovations affecting your world.