It’s 2:45 in the morning. Across the facility, operations is scrambling to quickly make sense of an unfolding situation that has smoke and hydrocarbon chugging out the top of their furnace stack. The radios come alive with a call for fire support as flashing lights begin to flood the affected area. You position the engine in just enough time to feel the explosion doors on the furnace open, and watch the brilliant illumination of flaming hydrogen shoot from the top of the stack into the night sky. Grab a line boys, it’s time to work.
Industrial responders mitigate runs like this everyday around the world. But just how much do you know about industrial firefighting?
I am fortunate enough to be an emergency responder in two different capacities. On one side, I get to respond in the municipal world, fighting house fires, performing extrication, and medically helping the general public. The other side is a world that many people, especially responders, don’t understand. The industrial world. Each year on May 4th, we celebrate international firefighters day. We typically shake the hand of the crew we run into around town, or stop by the local house to say thank you to the guys protecting our neighborhoods. But what about the crews protecting our neighborhoods from chemical exposure? Today, we’re going to celebrate the industrial Firefighter, and highlight some of their duties that many may not be aware of.
When the flames of a class A fire subside, a certain feeling of gratification accompanies the darkness. However, industrial firefighters routinely battle LPG, and other heavy flammable liquids as part of their job scope. This puts an emphasis on stream isolation, rather than extinguishment. For flammable liquid fires, it is more crucial that we focus on stopping the product flow, rather than putting out flames. Once exposures are protected, stream routing is our priority. Identifying valves, being able to trace lines, and accurately finding the source of our fuel in high stress situations, definitely poses a challenge that most firefighters don’t face.
Most of our industrial jobs include a heavy element of HAZMAT. When our fire crews go to work, our air monitoring teams work hand in hand with them. This requires our responders to have in depth knowledge of gas metering not only in regards to the standard 4 gas meters, but specialty meters of varying types. One luxury we have in our world is that we can generally narrow down our product fairly quickly. Unfortunately, we tend to deal with the worst of the worst sometimes. For example pinpointing that our material involved is H2S is very important, however, when dealing with it in the hundreds of thousands of PPM range, our window for zoning small, and crucial for life safety. These air monitoring teams not only ensure safety for our people on site, but also ensure and help decision making for any off site evacuations, or sheltering in place.
In a facility full of some of the tightest confined spaces, the industrial responder must be ready at a moments notice to make entry, mitigate, and make the rescue. In addition to confined spaces, trench rescue services, and IDLH atmospheres are often common hazards that the industrial responder must face. Many industrial responders serve as stand by rescue teams for the ultra hazardous jobs that need to happen in order to make things happen around the clock.
It is very easy for me to celebrate the industrial responder because day in, and day out, I get to witness the awesome sacrifices that these men and women make. I hope you will do the same, and get to know your areas industrial response teams. They are the life blood of a response world that many do not understand, but definitely are all benefited by.