Article Archive
Risk Assessment
Hidden hazards in making paper
Vol. 26 Summer

The basis of this series of articles has always been pre-emergency planning and the emergency responders. The intent of this particular article is to discuss paper mills and some hazards that are present. At the end of this article consider including these hazards into your pre-emergency plans when touring a paper mill.

Paper mills have been around for quite some time. The process used to make paper has changed slightly, but the process hazards and byproducts of the process have not changed significantly. For most emergency responders, when asked what they would consider the most likely event they would respond to at a paper mill, would reply a large roll paper fire. While large roll paper fires have occurred during the history of paper mills, there are other types of hazards that are located within them. Some paper mills have complete structural fire brigades and some rely upon the local emergency responders, which is important in many ways as there have been times when even the large structural fire brigades have had to reach out for additional assistance during a crisis.

The first thing that everyone needs to know about a paper mill is that it is basically a chemical plant. At these facilities, you can expect to find large pressure vessels of many types, sizes and shapes, boilers, digesters and paper machines — just to name a few. Things people may not know exist are methanol storage, turpentine storage, rubber tires, scrap cardboard, large hydraulic systems, enormous wood chip piles and log yards and many other non-obvious hazards. What follows is a brief review of a couple of these hazards and what to expect to encounter at a paper mill. The remainder of the hazards will be discussed during the next article.

Paper machines are prone to fires. It has been said many times in the paper industry that the best firefighters in the mill are the paper machine tenders and operators on the floor level. While these fires start out small in nature, they can grow quickly due to the dust associated with the operation. This can extend up to the roof level and spread throughout the dry end of the paper machine. Some locations will even use sandwich-type wall materials (needed due to the paper machine environment) which can cause further problems when they become involved in the fire.

Also, there are typically three or so large rolls of paper stored in this area awaiting transport to the converting area or to the warehouse. This might sound like a relatively simple fire to deal with, but the parts that most are not equipped to deal with are the high ceilings and possibly the lack of fire breaks or fire barrier walls. If the paper machine involves a Yankee dryer

Many paper mills use flammable liquids in the paper making process. Sometimes these Intermediate Bulk Containers are located on the floor of the paper machine and sometimes they are in the basement. Either way they add to the overall complexity of the fire and the relevant dangers to the emergency responder. Some fires have actually extended to the roof level and involved scrap or dust collectors there as well as the roof itself. It should be noted that the ability to lay charged hose lines and enter some of these paper machine rooms can be quite cumbersome as they might be located well inside the paper mill with no direct outside access.

Most paper machines will have some large hydraulic units associated with it and lubrication oils as well. These are typically located in the basement below the paper machine, sometimes near the storage of the aforementioned flammable liquids. Depending on the situation, some of these hydraulic units can contain over 1,000 gallons of pressurized fluids, and any small line break and ignition source can result in a huge fire. These are very difficult to deal with, not only because some simply can not be isolated immediately and not damage the paper machine. The visibility even on a normal day may not be good. If you have any sort of a fire in this area, the dense smoke and products of combustion can severely hamper the ability to formulate any sort of major attack. Having the right equipment in this case is paramount in order to find the source of the fire and possibly extinguish it. In some cases, the fire has run out of fuel before an aggressive interior attack can be mounted, which results in millions of property damages for the paper mill and can cause the machine to be inoperative for six months or longer.

These operations sometimes appear to be well managed and simple from the roadside but if something like what is mentioned above happens, responders need to be prepared and know all of what can happen relative to these events.

Contact this author at or at +1 601-992-3405.

1, you can not just go in and deliver water like you can on other types of fires. If you do, the Yankee may become distorted and be put out of production, which can cost the facility a considerable amount of money. 

1 See for more information.

Jeff Roberts, CFPS, is with XL GAPS, a leading loss prevention services provider and a member of the XL Group of companies. XL Insurance is the global brand used by XL Group plc’s insurance companies and underwriting divisions offering property, casualty, professional and specialty insurance products throughout the world. More information about XL Insurance is available at XL Group plc, through its subsidiaries, is a global insurance and reinsurance company providing property, casualty, and specialty products to industrial, commercial, and professional firms, insurance companies and other enterprises on a worldwide basis.


P: (979) 690-7559
F: (979) 690-7562

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