The Industrial Emergency Response,
Municipal Fire Department Interface
By: Mike Shorkey
The day is routine: rig checks in progress, a couple of the firefighters talking over what’s
for breakfast and how were the days off? Ya know…The normal Chit-Chat. Suddenly the tones
drop for a reported working fire at the chemical plant west of town. As the rigs go in service
there is not much talk. A large column of black smoke can be seen to the west. Is your fire
department ready for the fire they will encounter? Has your department completed pre-incident
planning? Is your command staff familiar with the facility, its management, and its internal
emergency response organization? What resources are you going to need? Dispatch updates
indicate that the fire is reported as a large flammable liquids Tank and Spill fire. The fire is
involving 85 ft. coned roof with a floating membrane, the containment dike as well as several
pumps and associated piping systems. Units are also advised the plant’s Emergency Response
Team (ERT) is operating on scene.
As your unit reports on scene you are escorted to the incident command post. Your
incoming units are advised to stage at the main gate. During the face to face with the facility
Incident Commander (I/C) you are advised on the contents of the tank, what tactics/strategy are
being employed at this time, and what is thought to be needed from your fire department. This is
the point where a Unified Command (U/C) is formed or the scene descends to an undesirable
place. Without a U/C, breakdown in several areas can be expected. Those areas include scene
safety, command and control, information about the product and process, as well as a host to
other vital areas.
The successful outcome of the event is dependent upon strong industrial/municipal interface.
I will cover several areas where the “Authority Having Jurisdiction” (AHJ) and the
industrial facility have the responsibility to become familiar each others’ capability and work to
fill the gaps with the appropriate resources. The command staff and the firefighters involved
must also be comfortable working together. This can only accomplished with appropriate preincident planning, FD walkthroughs and attending drills within the facility.
Most industrial sites such as petro-chemical facilities that operate industrial emergency
response teams have a very strong background in exterior petro-chemical firefighting and are
weak in the area of structural firefighting. It is generally understood that municipal firefighters
and officers are very strong with structural firefighting and their bread and butter operations, but
because of a lack of equipment, training and experience they tend to be weak in the petrochemical arena. The successful outcome with these events is dependent on extensive pre-event
interaction between the responders. The old adage is “Make Your Friends…Before You Need
Them.”
The Authority Having Jurisdiction:
The AHJ on industrial sites is clearly the local fire department. The only industrial
facility that remains in the control of the operator is inside the secure perimeter of nuclear power
facilities for obvious reasons. Outside of the secure perimeter is generally under the local AHJ.
In the interest of a seamless emergency operation it is imperative that an understanding of the
capabilities of both organizations are clear and have been agreed upon in advance of any
unplanned events.
Industrial Emergency Response Organizations:
The capabilities of industrial sites to cope with emergencies vary widely. Some, if not
most, will be trained only to incipient stage with fire extinguishers, first aid/CPR, and possibly
limited hazardous materials response. Some larger petro-chemical facilities have highly trained
and well equipped Emergency Response Teams with large volume foam apparatus, aerial
apparatus, squads, large volume water/foam delivery devices, hazardous materials teams,
technical rescue teams, as well as medical response teams. These ERT’s typically have
command staff, adequate shift staffing, fully functional Emergency Operation Centers (EOC),
along with product and process specialists. Petro-Chemical facilities that fall under the OSHA
program “Process Safety Management” (PSM) CFR 1910.119 and “Risk Management Planning”
(RMP) CFR-68 must comply with additional regulations which include an adequate ERT
response to unplanned events involving specified PSM chemicals.
Integrated Contingency Plan (ICP)
Facilities with hazardous chemicals that fall under local, state, or federal jurisdiction have
the obligation to develop, train and distribute a comprehensive ICP. Facilities may also be
regulated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Federal agencies such as the US
Coast Guard may also provide emergency response to events. Typically these federal agencies
will allow the local AHJ manage the event until such time that the AHJ and/or the stricken
facility are overwhelmed and are not functioning in a safe or environmentally sound fashion.
Local fire departments will be expected to support that mission. The stricken facility in most
cases will be designated as the “Responsible Party” (RP) and be responsible for the financial
aspects to bring things to a safe and environmentally sound conclusion. The ICP allows a
seamless integration of all responding agencies along with the facility management. Local
Emergency Planning Commissions (LEPC) will integrate the facility ICP with the countywide
emergency plans and resource lists.
Local Fire Department Responsibility:
Local fire departments and its members have the responsibility to have a reasonable
understanding of the facility products, processes, its emergency staffing, and its response
capability. This can only occur when the departments command staff plans training and
familiarization tours, as well as training sessions with the facilities in its response districts.
Municipal/Industrial Firefighters:
While municipal firefighters are great at their bread and butter operations, there is a
natural apprehension when faced with the large petro-chemical emergencies. At the same time,
industrial firefighters are very apprehensive with the simple structure fire and the possibility of
entering a building that is on fire. A clear understanding of responsibilities is imperative when
these events are in progress. It should be simple; if it’s reported as a structure fire the local FD
will have the lead and operate as normal. If the event involves process, tanks, associated piping
or transportation of products, the stricken facility should take the lead. In these cases industrial
apparatus should be primary attack units. Municipal units should provide support as directed for
these operations. When it comes to manpower, a good practice is to unite one or two of the
industrial responders with the municipal teams. When process units are shutdown on an
emergency basis verses an orderly shutdown of the process unit, process units tend to make a lot
of unusual noises, mainly steam relief valves operating causing a very unsettling environment for
the responders who are unfamiliar with the process. Facility responders can explain what is
going on and why.
Municipal / Industrial Apparatus:
Municipal engines range from 1,000 to 2,000 gallons per minute, have about 10-30
gallons of “Aqueous Film Forming Foam: (AFFF), and utilize mainly smooth bore nozzles.
Deck guns tend to be 1,000 to 1,500 gallons per minute with smooth bore nozzles. Industrial
foam engines are 2,000 to 5,000 gallons per minute, carry 1,000 to 3,000 gallons of AFFF,
supply lines from 5-7.25 inch, and have mainly automatic fog nozzles. Other high volume
delivery devises are trailer mounted and range from 1,500 to 14,000 gallons per minute. Portable
pumps of 6,000 gallons per minute are not uncommon. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is
generally the same structural gear; helmets typically have a full face shield.
Public Information Officers (PIO)
Companies with emergency response capability generally have a very good support
system with a well defined EOC including PIO personnel. My experience on both sides tells me
that timely, truthful information that is agreed upon by the facility and the AHJ is imperative to
maintain a good public image. Speculation on possible causes will always be under
investigation. If the public is in danger, additional information will be developed and distributed
as needed. A healthy, trustful relationship between private industry and public agencies is
always best.
Common Issues between Industrial & Municipal Emergency Responders:
Without an ongoing relationship between private industry and municipal departments, it is
predictable that several problems may arise. One of the most common problems is
communications and interoperability between the public and private response agencies. Radio
systems may be radically different. Fire ground language could have adverse effect on
operations. An example is apparatus or unit designations. Industrial facilities may have
responded two or three pieces of apparatus but have twenty-five emergency responders working
at a scene. How are they designated? How is accountability going to be accomplished? How are
“Maydays or PAR’s” going to be handled? These are just a few of a multitude of possible
problems as it is related to interoperability. Drawing on my experience and the experience of
other industrial chiefs, I have found that industrial emergency response organizations should
conform to the public sector’s operational protocols. Those protocols are established and are
common among municipal response organizations.
Mutual Respect:
“Everyone loves the firefighters.” That’s what we hear every day. These days, that has
lost some of the luster due to the downturn of the economy and the expense of maintaining an
adequately staffed, trained, and equipped response organization. Bottom line is we are all
firefighters who have signed up to respond to protect life and property. What is common is the
age old problem…union or non-union, paid or volunteer, industrial or municipal? Again the
bottom line is that when the call comes in we need to work together for common goal of
protecting life and property. The rank and file of the organizations must have the opportunity to
get together, understand their role, and be the best WE can be. We all have our areas of
expertise. The appropriate equipment and appropriate training make our most common
emergencies go away. The trick is the seamless integration when responding to a facility with all
the complexities found at petro-chemical plants.
Managing the Municipal/Industrial Interface:
The success of a response to such events starts in the understanding of resources available, the
understanding of training levels, capabilities and the recognized limitations of the response
organizations. Preplanning and drills will help gain insight about areas that will present a
challenge and those areas that will be working well. Industrial sites should have an “open door”
policy for municipal fire department visits. When major equipment is out of service good
communication should be made with the AHJ. Temporary response protocol can be adjusted as
needed. Successful Management the industrial response starts well in advance of a major
emergency. Success or Failure is dependent on the appropriate management of all these
components.
Mayday Protocols:
Fire Fighters, Both Municipal and Industrial are subjected to dangers that may cause the
members to get trapped, lost, run low on breathing air. These are TRUE EMERGENCIES that if
not handled promptly can and will cause further harm to the responder and those members
designated to assist the stricken member(s). A very clear and understood Mayday Protocol must
be in place for safe operations. Industrial Emergency Teams must be in “Lock Step” with
municipal responders and their Mayday protocol. This MUST be a seamless integration of
resources for the safe & successful Mayday Operation. Radio protocols, Member Duties, Rapid
Intervention Team establishment, Staged equipment, dispatch, and upgrade in the Municipal Box
Alarms are a Must! While working an industrial event, the next alarm must be in staging, this
may seem like an event is over resourced but just think of the drive time for the next alarm
companies. Remember you will be forgiven for being heavy in staging…You will never be
forgiven for the wait involved with appropriately staffing the Mayday Event and still keeping the
original event in check.
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Industrial Emergency Response – Mike Shorkey