Why would you need at 350-pound dry chemical wheel unit at a storage tank fire? Dwight Williams, founder of Williams Fire & Hazard Control, referred to his experience at a recent massive terminal fire while addressing the Industrial Rescue Fire Training conference in May.

His answer to the question about wheel units was simple. Pressure fires, said Williams.

“There are only three ways to put out a pressure fire,” he said. “One of them is shoot a tremendous amount of foam and get that nozzle so close that you basically blow the flame off the fuel. Another way is to fill the tank full of water so that you get water instead of burning fuel.”

The recommended way to deal with flame jetting from the pressured piping at ground level is dry chemical, Williams said. However, that option was not readily available at the Intercontinental Terminals Co. fire in March, the extinguishment of which Williams played a major role.

“When I got to the fire do you know how many dry chemical wheel units were there?” Williams said. “Zero.”

Firefighters are taught to put out pressure fire, such as header fires, first. That is wrong, Williams said.

“When you are shooting foam up on top of the tank, what falls out?” Williams asked. “Foam. That foam ties this ground fire up. Then you have a reactionary team go in and make dry chemical shots on the header while it is tied up from the foam.”

Some headers may have as many as 13 different targets for dry chemical. The firefighter must choose to shoot them out individually or all of them at once, Williams said.

Williams was only one from a slate of 12 speakers addressing the 150 students attending on subjects as diverse as industrial mutual aid, large-flow water, thermal imaging, protective clothing, bulk storage and firefighting foam.

“If you leave here today and don’t have every one of these guys’ cards in your hand you have missed a huge opportunity,” said David Owens, new owner of IRFT – field in Beaumont, TX.

Founded in 1966, the Beaumont fire school played host to a summer training school for many years attended by firefighters from around the state and, eventually, from around the world. Then, in 2004, a new regime took over the fire school and discontinued the tradition.

“Now we have it going again,” Owens said. “We’re excited about seeing it grow with a lot more vendors and a lot more instructors.”

Owens’ training company, Industrial Rescue Instruction Systems, joined with Williams and US Fire Pump owner Chris Ferrara to create a firefighting team to tackle the March terminal fire that captured national attention.

“There is still a lot of stuff we can’t get into talking about,” Owens said.

Regardless, the topics that were on tap were challenging enough. Ronnie Williams (no relation to Dwight), an emergency responder with Dow for 23 years, addressed the issue of emergency response team leadership.

Passing on a wealth of information to new industrial firefighters often involves coping with a generation gap that seems monumental, he said.

“I’m old school,” Williams said. “When I grew up we worked from ‘could to couldn’t,’ meaning from the time you could see in the morning until you couldn’t see at night. Today’s millennials may not necessarily have been brought up the same way.”

However, the chief rule to success in industrial firefighting remains the same – find yourself a mentor, Williams said.

“Find someone in your organization whose rock solid on emergency response, rock solid as an operator and rock solid as a technical advisor,” he said. “At two o’clock in the morning when it all goes south at your plant you’re going to wish you had that kind of knowledge.”

Another speaker with extensive industrial firefighting expertise was Bob Gliem, technical sales director for US Fire Pump. A certified IFSAC instructor, Gliem was on hand in Westville, NJ in July 2007 when a lightning strike ignited a 100-foot-diameter xylene storage tank at an oil refinery. (See “Tank 15 Is Burning,” Jan-Feb 2008, IFW).

“The whole gist of this presentation is the key to success,” Gliem said. “The topic is pre-planning.”

Live-fire training exercises conducted at IRFT-field utilized the fire field’s flat pit, pressure pit, industrial complex and pump house projects. The live-fire exercises occupied two days of the four-day conference. A live-fire product demonstration for GelTech Solutions, an agent for protecting against a broad range of five and heat-related damage was also conducted.

Classroom sessions were conducted at the Holiday Inn Beaumont Plaza.

Owens said that beginning next year the summer training school will become an annual event.

“It’s a big deal for us to get that going again,” he said “It will give all the local emergency response companies around here the opportunity to train together again.”