Responders challenge the Refinery Terminal Fire Company's live-fire process training unit in Texas - Photo by Anton Riecher.

Responders challenge the Refinery Terminal Fire Company's live-fire process training unit in Texas

Photo by Anton Riecher.

Mitchell Garner, environment health and safety manager and emergency response coordinator for the Kinder Morgan Terminals Gulf Coast region, values team performance. The company’s most recent fire training, conducted in April at the Refinery Terminal Fire Company (RTFC) training field in Corpus Christi, TX, is specifically structured to achieve that goal.

“I don’t take anything at face value,” Garner said. “We’re always striving to get better. We’re always striving to gain an edge with our training, to break out of that monotonous mold and continue to develop.”

Kinder Morgan is one of the largest energy infrastructure companies in North America. It owns an interest in or operates approximately 84,000 miles of pipelines and 157 terminals. Those pipelines transport natural gas, gasoline, crude oil, CO2 and other products.

The April training consisted of 50 of Kinder Morgan’s emergency response team (ERT) members from liquids and bulk terminals with participants traveling from as far as  Carteret, N.J. and Chicago, IL. The training also included team members from Kinder Morgan’s Gulf Coast region. Rather than train as a single group, participants attending the three-day Kinder Morgan training are divided into three groups – tank fire/Incident Command, pump and foam operations and industrial firefighting.

“Our upper management teams who would normally run incident command or serve as operations section chiefs will be in the tank fire/Incident Command class,” Garner said. “Our slightly more advanced firefighters will be in the pump ops class, industrial firefighting and so on.”

Responders caught in foam blizzard. Training at RFTC utilizes the actual foam used by emergency responders, not training foam. - Photo by Anton Riecher.

Responders caught in foam blizzard. Training at RFTC utilizes the actual foam used by emergency responders, not training foam.

Photo by Anton Riecher.

After training independently for two days, the teams are brought together to pre-plan and strategize for a mock incident. Finally, the tank fire class takes over as incident command for the live-fire training exercises that conclude the training.

“All the groups come together to respond to a mock incident similar to what we would train to fight in our facility,” Garner said.

The goal is to challenge the firefighters with dynamic situations equivalent to the ever-changing scenarios they face in actual firefighting, he said.

“We have to learn to work collectively as a unit,” Garner said. “When a person is in my position you always have to think about your team. What are the best tools and the best resources I can give them?”

For example, Kinder Morgan specializes in handling finished products. However, training for Kinder Morgan firefighters includes use of RTFC’s live-fire industrial process prop.

“We don’t just train for what we may face at our facilities,” Garner said.  “We train for what we may face outside the terminal since we participate in mutual aid associations such as Channel Industries Mutual Aid on the Houston Ship Channel.”

Moving to a smaller training field such as RTFC has been important in teaching Kinder Morgan’s emergency response team  the multitude of ways a fire hazard can present itself even in familiar surroundings, said Garner, a former instructor at Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service.

“At other training facilities groups would move from project to project to give the firefighters a different dynamic,” he said. “What RTFC has done is condense that into one or two units. You can split the process unit to do three-dimensional fires, pressure fires, liquid fires and ground fire. It’s all compressed into a small area.”

If the props do not provide enough surprises, the constantly changing breeze from the Gulf does, Garner said.

“Yesterday we were out conducting our live burns, then came inside for lunch,” he said. “By the time we returned to the field the winds had totally shifted in the opposite direction. Everything we planned had to be changed.”

One of the reasons Kinder Morgan began training at RTFC was the opportunity to use its own fire apparatus. For the April training Garner utilized a 3,000 gpm foam pumper from the Pasadena terminal equipped with 1,250 gallons of foam and 500 pounds of dry chemical.

“I am able to flow foam, pump water and train on my equipment in as close to a real live-fire scenario as I can possibly get,” he said.

Another advantage is complete control over the instruction given to the firefighters, he said.

“All the instruction being taught to them is directed by me or my team leaders,” Garner said. “It gives the people on shift together the chance to create that bond. At other schools you would put an entry level guy in one class, then put a mid-level guy in separate class and an upper level  guy in a third one.”

Instructor corrects hose team. - Photo by Anton Riecher.

Instructor corrects hose team.

Photo by Anton Riecher.

If the students are not working together collectively there is no opportunity to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the team and shifts on which they work, he said.

“By coming here our senior-level ERT personnel can take the entry-level people under their wing and show them the ropes,” Garner said. “Firefighting is like rope rescue or anything else, everybody does it a little differently.”

Garner stresses that this thought process in no way discredits the way other schools conduct fire training.

“I have developed great respect for many instructors and teams at other schools,” Garner said. “I still work hand in hand with them regularly and consider them my firefighting brothers and sisters. I think there is value in both methodologies of instruction.”

During training, no live-fire training is attempted without a complete pre-plan of the situation.

“We show them exactly what valves to block,” Garner said. “We don’t just light the project and throw them at it. A safety factor is built in to each exercise.”

That safety factor includes instructors stationed around the prop to closely observe. Students are taught hand signals to indicate an emergency, and every hose team is led by a team leader and includes at least one instructor.

“Every time we make a block there has to be at least two devices involved,” Garner said. “ We always use two appliances as a safety factor in the event there is equipment failure.

Kinder Morgan’s company policy requires the use of full bunker gear and breathing apparatus whenever working in a hot zone. Medical monitoring is done on each student before and after their trip to the fire field. EMTs and paramedics are always in place during live-fire training.

“We rehab the students and if we detect any issues we have them checked out further,” Garner said.

Giving the firefighters a chance to train using their own equipment is only part of opportunity that the Kinder Morgan fire training offers, he said. More important is the opportunity to use that live-fire training as a team-building exercise.

“I would encourage any fire chief to continue to reevaluate their training regime, reevaluate their team, reevaluate their team’s ability to mitigate hazards, and to adjust their training accordingly.” Garner said.