Equipping for the industrial incident

Industrial fires demand a different approach to tactics and equipment


For municipal fire departments, facing an industrial fire is a much different animal than residential and commercial structures. And that requires a different mindset not only about tactics, but about firefighting equipment. The explosion and fire in West, Texas made that abundantly clear.

We cornered Rob Freese, senior vice president of marketing for Globe Manufacturing, to pick his brain on how fire departments need to gear up for the industrial incident.

What firefighting equipment do municipalities need for industrial response?
In many circumstances the turnout needed is exactly the same for all other responses. The unique attribute of industrial fires is that with proper knowledge of your community you can come to know exactly the hazards you are likely to come into contact with in a particular industrial event.  

Rob Freese
Rob Freese

With bulk flammable gas or liquid storage facilities, processing plants of these types of materials, transportation point for these types of materials, or bulk users of these kinds of materials and the likelihood of such an event versus the municipal fire service's most common exposure a department may need to be equipped with proximity style clothing and properly trained in their use to shut off fuel sources.  

It is generally a practice in these kinds of events to remove the fuel not extinguish the fire. Even in foam application you are effectively removing the fuel from the heat source.

From an equipment standpoint, what are two of the biggest differences, often overlooked, between municipal and industrial fires?
With industrial fires you generally know your fuel sources and contents, at least much better than a residential event where there are many unknown hazards. This should allow for a properly planned response.

The challenge is to be properly equipped in these economic times to have equipment, which may be used only infrequently at best as well as to keep properly trained. Given the limitations a properly planned response for the resources available is critical.  

Regular training at these facilities is critical as well as having a well-informed business and facilities representative on call.

How important is it to have foam on the first-due rig?
Foam is an important resource. Find out if the industrial site you have in your community stockpiles any foam. For most departments, foam is not used frequently enough or have proper storage so freezing and aging are important considerations.  

Many departments have issues with foam systems on apparatus gelling up and clogging. Be sure in specifying your apparatus you choose a system that will work in your environment. Have enough foam on hand to get you through the period until a cached storage can be transported to your location.

What level of hazmat suits and training should a smaller department be expected to have?
A department should be able to assist with decon and maintain control of the hazard area. Other than that, a specialty team should handle the "hot" part of the scene with properly trained people and equipment.

Most important, a department should be able to identify the hazard condition before stepping in it. A resource manual as well as contact information on people you will need should be readily available.

What's the best way to determine if you need proximity suits or if structural PPE will suffice?
Radiant heat is your guide. There is a radian heat component to all fires, but the intensity of these liquid-fuel type fires is especially problematic for getting to the source and shutting off the fuel supply.

Refer to the NFPA 1971 definition for proximity applications. If you don't possess the equipment and expertise, you should identify how far away those are and make agreements with those entities for how you'd like to use them. Sometimes a nearby airport can be a great adjunct resource.

What special appliances are needed?
Be sure to consider not just your appliances and hose, but the infrastructure to support it. I recently visited an industrial site that purchased some awesome suppression devices, trailer-mounted monitors and hose only to realize the pumps and lines to supply them were half as capable as required. Oooops!

How should departments prioritize their industrial firefighting equipment purchases if they have multiple hazards such as scrap yard, an oil tank field and a medium-size steel mill?
Go back to firefighting basics: fuel, oxygen, heat source. What is your most volatile environment and try your best to plan for it? A large steel mill may be the greater hazard versus the small tank farm.

OSHA requires every department conduct a risk assessment taking into account many factors. Nobody can always be completely prepared for the worst disaster, but it is important to be prepared for the likely ones. Sometimes it means to maintain your distance and mitigate expansion of the event.

Are there extra equipment cleaning or decontamination efforts needed after an industrial fire?
Be sure to get the MSDS for what you encountered at an industrial event. In many cases this is way more information and much more accurate than what we get encountering a residential fire that may have a store of swimming pool chlorine.

Know your resources; the Industry Hazard Mitigation Hotlines may be available to assist in this. NFPA standards and their appendix can be a good resource. If you have a relationship with a gear care and cleaning contractor (ISP, Independent Service Provider NFPA 1851) they can be a huge help.  

Don't underestimate the manufacturer of your turnout gear as a resource. After a plane crash in upstate New York the fire department contacted Globe via our local police department on a Sunday to begin mitigation of the hazards to their turnout gear and in the course of doing so saved tens of thousands of dollars in protective clothing.

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