Nobody on the Brayton Fire Training Field during the annual Industrial Fire School in July knows the pipe alley project better than retired Exxon firefighter Harold Broom. He has served as an instructor on the prop for 10 years, graduating to module leader for the course four years ago.
“Pipe alley teaches you all about hose handling, communications and valve capture and control,” Broom said. “You learn how to approach a fire, how to push the fire away from you and where to position your hoses so you can get to the valve and close it.”
Industrial fire and safety personnel and others interested in industrial fire safety attend this special school held every summer. Students get to participate in one of the many courses offered during the week-long program and receive intensive classroom and/or hands-on training.
This year’s school played host to 710 students and 220 instructors.
The pipe alley, designated Project 42, involve sets of double pumps that represent seal and flange leaks. A meter loop, a simulated compressed air cylinder and chain-operated valves to close overhead and elevated flange leaks add to the project’s complexity.
The dictionary defines “alley” as a narrow street. “Alley” is also defined as a region where destructive phenomena occur, such as “tornado alley.” Think about the Brayton pipe alley project as a combination of both. Overhead and on either side there is a potential for jetting plumes of pressurized flame.
“We’ve got four pumps in total,” Broom said. “They can burn either LP or liquid fuel. One pump has a leaking flange, another one has a seal leak. A different sized pump on the other side also has a flange leak. We’ve got an overhead leak in the back of the prop controlled by a chain valve. And there is also a loose regulator.”
However, for all the technical complexity represented, the worst mistakes that students make usually involves basic hose handling skills, he said.
“These guys need a lot more experience with advancing the hose, moving it side to side and backing up,” Broom said. “They stumble and struggle too much.”
When new students arrive at Broom’s project the first job is to designate a team leader. The first question Broom puts to the team leader is “What is the most important thing on your mind out here?”
The correct answer is “life safety.” Then Broom leads into his second question.
“So, we light this thing up,” he said. “You see the fire going. You’re going to make your 360 to see what everything looks like. What’s the first thing you’re going to ask the unit operator?”
The team leader answers “Is everybody accounted for?” He is riding a winning streak. The next thing he needs to know is what is on fire, Broom said. Is it a polar solvent? A hydrocarbon? Maybe it’s a benzene stream. The answer tells you what kind of protective gear you will need to wear.
The next question for the unit operator involves how the fire will be fought. “Are there any remote block valves?” Broom said. “Can you turn these fuel sources off from inside the control center? Chances are, some of it you may be able to. But a lot of it, you’re not going to be able to.”
The next set of questions involves strategy. Wind direction tells us what direction we want to attack from, Broom said.
“You don’t want to go into it from the downwind side,” he said. “It might be more interesting, but you don’t want to do it.” Likewise, terrain must be considered. “Do you want to attack it from the downhill side, especially if the fire involves liquid fuel?”
Only then do you begin making an attack plan, Broom said.
“Here we’re going to use four hose lines,” he said. “One of them will be a foam line. The other three will be water lines.”
Since the project does not involve a big pool fire, Broom recommended the firefighters use combination turbo jet nozzles rather than a single purpose foam nozzle such as a JS-10.
“That way you can go back and forth,” he said. “Once you’re through as a foam line you can become a water line again. It gives you reach and you can provide cooling.”
Fixed monitors can also be used to provide cooling while firefighters are busy deploying their hand lines. But these are also likely to be the first monitors turned off, Broom said.
“Where I worked drainage was not good,” he said. “You get four or five unit monitors going and then start flowing water from the truck and by the time we drag a ground monitor out everything is flooded.”
That can be particularly bad news if the unit includes furnaces that may not be shut off, he said.
“Now you’ve got an ignition source for all that fuel,” Broom said. “It could add to your issues. So try to take fixed monitors out a quickly as practically possible.” However, keep the monitors staffed in case they are needed again, he said.
Once the team leader gives hose teams their assignments he should move to a position where the whole fire scene is visible at once. He can then employ runners to give new orders to the teams.
“Don’t get tied up in the middle of it,” Broom said. “Stay back where you can see the whole scenario.”
To start, nozzles will use a wide power cone setting, he said. As the teams close in on the flame source, the power cone is narrowed until capture and control is achieved. Identify the source of the flames and concentrate on that rather than the valve that needs to be closed.
In most cases the rear most member of the hose team then moves forward to close the valve. If some other team member closes the valve, the team moves forward into that vacant position to take up the slack.
Once the command is given to close the valve the hose team holds steady at its position.
“If you’ve got to move, let that guy closing the valve know,” Broom said. “He’s really being exposed.”
In any case, moves and nozzle adjustments made by the hose team should be done slowly to best judge if the action being taken is having a positive or negative effect.
Avoid kneeling at all costs was one key piece of advice offered by Broom.
“People have a tendency to kneel down and get on one knee” when reaching for an item at ground level, he said. “You’ve got a lot of liquid pooling around you. You’re kneeling in water and probably fuel. What’s that doing to your gear? It’s soaking into it.”
Worse, kneeling down is the worst position to start from if fire conditions call for a sudden relocation, Broom said.
“That split second it takes you to jump up and start moving may be that split second you need to get out of there,” he said.
For anyone assigned to foam lines or extinguisher duty, it is important to make sure these items are in working order before you need it.
“Don’t let your team leader holler for an extinguisher and have to say ‘Okay boss, I’ll get one but first let me test it real quick,’” Broom said.
Extinguishers are best applied to lingering flames around the pump seals or the flange packings.
“But use that fire extinguisher somewhere,” Broom said. “Try to find a fire and put it out. Don’t freelance, but if you see an opportunity tell the team leader.”
Post each extinguishment the firefighters gather again to hear Broom’s autopsy about what went right or wrong. On the negative side, while the pipe alley does not offer many opportunities to use foam, firefighters are expected to find a use for any tools that have been issued.
“Did we ever flow any foam?” he asks. “We have a lot of water and fuel that pools against the back curb. That’s where you want to put your foam. Go ahead and cover it.”
If foam is being applied, divert any water from hose lines or fixed monitors to cooling exposures.
“Water tears up your foam blanket,” Broom said. “You’ll never get a good foam blanket down.”
On the positive side, hose handling had definitely improved during the latest evolution, Broom said.
“Don’t be shy,” Broom said. “If you’re on that nozzle and it’s tucked up under your armpit you don’t have any control. Holler for the team to give you some hose. Don’t struggle and struggle. Holler at them because it can be hard to hear out there.”
Overall, the evolution went well, he told the firefighters.
“You got the fire out,” Broom said. “Nobody got hurt. I’d say that was a success.
View "Pump Alley at TEEX," a 9½-minute video on the summer industrial school training.