Traditionally, only three options existed for management to protect industrial facilities from fire. One, expand the job description of new hires to include duty on the company’s fire brigade. Two, solicit existing employees to volunteer to serve on the brigade. Or, three, donate money for specialized training or equipment to the nearest government agency that owns a fire truck.
Today, many companies take advantage of a fourth solution: turning to the private sector. For-profit emergency services are nothing new in residential firefighting. Hundreds of small private fire companies in the United States provide protection for communities that either lack the tax base to subsidize a standard municipal fire department or simply prefer the for-profit economic model as the way to get the best service for the least cost.
Proponents of free enterprise in all other aspects of modern life have been slow to adapt that philosophy to protecting their own plants and refineries. However, several entrepreneurs are making notable headway in bringing their brands of for-profit emergency services inside the plant gates. The companies cited below are leading examples of this.
Capstone Fire & Safety Management
Capstone found its way into providing industrial services by a route alien to a great many responders in that field – wildland firefighting.
Co-Founder Chris Dusa worked 10 years as a firefighter/paramedic/rescue swimmer in California where dry, windy and often hot weather conditions from spring through late autumn produce devastating wildfires. The 2018 wildfire season was the deadliest and most destructive ever recorded in California, with a total of 8,527 fires burning an area of 1,893,913 acres, the largest area of burned acreage recorded in a fire season.
“There was good potential for the skills and background that I developed in the fire service,” Dusa said. “I thought there was a definite need for a well-run, professional company to bring these services to companies in need.”
At first Capstone provided responders to supplement the fire crews brought in by the federal government. But then Capstone began offering its services to electric utility companies as a means to prevent massive wildfires.
“Our firefighters shadow utility crews working in areas of dry brush,” Dusa said. “While welding and other work is being done, we are on standby with highly qualified fire personnel in case something sparks.”
Capstone’s success in preventing wildfires led to new challenges. In 2011, a utility client approached Capstone about establishing an OSHA 1910.156 compliant fire brigade at one of their power plants. This presented a new set of inherent risks to protect against, Dusa said.
“Combined cycle power plants use natural gas to spin turbines,” he said. “That pressurized natural gas fuels a heat source. Add to that the risk of transformer fires, hazardous material spills and nearby exposures if a fire breaks out.”
Power plants represent a highly specialized environment that municipal fire departments typically do not have in-depth knowledge about, Dusa said.
“We know these facilities like the back our hand,” he said. “We train to deal with these specific hazards. A big part of our training regimen is sending our firefighters to the fire school at Texas A&M.”
The fire hazard does not end at the power plant. Downstream of the power plant is a myriad of sub stations, capacitor banks and transmission lines that all require 24/7, 365 day fire protection.
“Our response is broken up into areas of responsibility,” Dusa said. “We have multiple teams that are assigned to specific areas, like a service territory map. We provide the crews responsible for the different utility companies’ service territories.”
Aside from power plants, Capstone provides firefighters and equipment for various nuclear facilities, research laboratories, fuel storage terminals, transportation depots, aircraft operations and technology centers with a payroll of more than 300 personnel. All responders are trained in hazmat, confined space and high angle rescue and emergency medicine.
“We recruit specifically from the world of industrial fire,” Dusa said. “Some of those employees have municipal type experience. But we only hire professional firefighters with credentials to verify their background and experience.”
The most consistent compliment that Capstone gets from its clients is that contracting for fire services leaves their internal personnel free to concentrate on operating the business, he said.
“They can leave the emergency planning and response to an outsourced expert,” Dusa said. “Training is not their problem. Neither is spending money on equipment and protective clothing. But the client can still feel comfortable checking all the right boxes when it comes to OSHA regulations and internal safety procedures.”
Global Medical Response
Global Medical Response (GMR) is the industry-leading air, ground, specialty and residential fire services and managed medical transportation organization in the U.S. with more than 38,000 employee serving communities across the country.
“Each of our companies have long histories of proudly serving the communities where we live,” said Marc Kilman-Burnham, national director of innovative practices. “The include American Medical Response (AMR), Rural Metro Fire, Air Evac Lifeteam, REACH Air Medical Services, Med-Trans Corporation, AirMed International and Guardian Flight,” said Marc Kilman-Burnham, national director of innovative practices.
Rural Metro Fire traces its roots in subscription firefighting back to the late 1940s when founder Lou Witzeman opened his doors in Phoenix, AZ, with one fire engine and four firefighters.
“The story about Louis is legendary—he saw a neighbor’s house burn down because there was no local fire protection and decided to do something about it,” Kilman-Burnham said. “Taking matters into his own hands, he bought a fire truck and got the neighbors to pitch in as subscribers.”
Today, Rural Metro Fire continues to be a leading national provider of fire protection services in unincorporated communities. It also provides on-site industrial fire and EMS services for manufacturing plants and oil refineries, aircraft rescue, and firefighting for commercial and private airports. The Rural Metro customer list includes companies such as FedEx, Citgo Petroleum, John Glenn International Airport and Alcoa.
What encourages companies to invest in contract firefighting, with a protection service, rather than investing in their own fire brigade? Immediate access to trained professionals is the biggest part of it, Kilman-Burnham said.
“We provide that professional training, education and safety,” he said. “We can make sure our people have the best equipment for the least amount of money.”
According to Kilman-Burnham, when the firefighters are not busy with training or actual emergency response, the firefighters provide an available work force for ongoing safety services such as inspecting fire extinguishers or issuing work permits.
“When you have a professional Fire and EMS department like ours onsite, we do all the work for you,” headded.
Most recently, Kurtz Industrial Fire Service became part of the GMR family of companies. Kurtz is a full-service provider of professional emergency response personnel to numerous municipal fire departments, fire protection districts, refineries, auto manufacturers and dispatch centers.
“Kurtz is the predominant provider in the Midwest, primarily in Illinois and Indiana,” Kilman-Burnham said. “They began providing staff to local fire departments and continued to expand. Today, they are inside some of the world’s largest petroleum and chemical refineries.”
Kurtz and Rural Metro together maintain industrial fire brigades at nearly 45 locations, including mines. That number of operations under one roof provides tremendous interchangeability with regard to personnel.
“Let’s say there is a big fire at one of these locations,” Kilman-Burnham said. “We want to be able to send in teams to backfill those positions when existing personnel is occupied with the emergency response.”
Williams Fire & Hazard Control
From the Gulf of Mexico to the North Atlantic, from Africa to the Pacific Rim, Williams Fire & Hazard Control firefighting professionals are world-renowned for their extensive industrial fire response expertise. With more than three decades of experience and several hundred major incidents to their credit, Williams Fire & Hazard Control Emergency Response Services have shaped response tactics and developed equipment to meet today’s most threatening oil, gas, chemical and industrial fire challenges.
The Williams Fire & Hazard Control Emergency Response Team has answered the call to over 250 large-scale, POG fires and hazard incidents. No single event is ever the same, and each event provides further education and understanding that improves the team’s ability to handle the next event when it arises. From site assessment consults to active and standby firefighting personnel to emergency delivery of firefighting agents and equipment, they stand ready to serve.
The team’s first-hand involvement in emergency firefighting response has been proven effective in real-world scenarios, time and time again. This frontline experience drives development of their industry-leading equipment, including large-volume portable water pumps, monitor nozzle packages, manifolds, proportioning appliances and high-performance foam concentrates. Says Herman Ladner, Emergency Response Manager, “We’re constantly working to engineer safer, more effective solutions – to help protect our people, and our clients.”
Some companies say they stand by their products, but the Williams Fire & Hazard Control team actually live by theirs. These seasoned professionals have applied their keen understanding of flammable liquid fire behavior to successfully respond. “With every response,” explained Ladner, “our firefighting team faces potentially life-threatening situations. That’s why we’re focused on delivering the very best equipment, tactics and support.”