Firefighters with Cornerstone Chemicals tackle live-fire prop at Maritime and Industrial Training Center. Every issue Industrial Fire World’s Incident Log column chronicles industrial emergencies worldwide. One repeat offender listed with regularity through the years is fires involving coffee roasters, ranging from specialty shop models to industrial mega monsters that handle up to 500 pounds per batch.

Chip Elliott, a fire safety and process safety manager for Folgers Coffee in New Orleans, deals with the mega monsters.

“During the roasting process, the roasters build-up flammable carbon monoxide,” Elliott said. “An explosive atmosphere is present when CO levels exceed 15,000 parts per million.”

Hence, Folgers needs firefighters close at hand. The coffee makers are only one of a wide variety of Louisiana concerns that turn to Delgado Community College’s Maritime and Industrial Training Center for emergency response training.

“Before Delgado we had to do in-house training,” Elliott said. “Obviously, we don’t have the resources. We don’t have the life-size, live-fire props. We don’t have the retired and active duty firefighters who serve as instructors at Delgado.”

Very shortly, Delgado will be expanding those resources with the addition of an industrial prop donated by Folgers.

“We plan to put in four new fire props by November,” said Rick Schwab, the center’s senior director. “One will be a second process unit. The one we use now is equipped with 28 different working valves. If you don’t shut them off right, the fire keeps burning.”

The new prop from Folgers is a 500 pound per batch coffee roaster of the kind Elliott contends with daily. No decision has been made yet about the other two new props, Schwab said.

Delgado opened a new two-story, 19,000-square-foot education center in April 2016 that doubled the size of the available classrooms, adding state-of-the-art equipment simulators and labs used by marine and firefighting students. Two new marine training simulators will be added to the center in the planned expansion.

Elliott, in charge of fire protection and process safety at one of Folgers two plants in New Orleans, serves on the center’s 18-member board in charge of the expansion. To him, the center represents a state-of-the-art training facility. 

“It’s a great place for a company to conduct team building,” Elliott said. “There are all kinds of exercises, activities and simulators that rival any theme park ride. We’re way ahead of the curve on new technology.”

Beside fires, coffee roasters can present a carbon monoxide threat to workers under extreme conditions. And, throughout the coffee making process, steps must be taken to protect against dust explosions.

No Fire Truck

Elliott operates with a mandatory emergency response team of about 50 workers, most of whom work as roasters or packing technicians at the plant.

“When the alarm rings, they instantly become firefighters,” he said. The ERT also operates a medical emergency response team (MERT).

By the nature of the emergency response required, Elliott’s ERT does not operate a fire truck.

“At any point in the plant, you can access a fire hose within 75 feet,” he said. “That’s true throughout the facility. We’ve also got 100 percent automatic fire sprinkler coverage, fed from a 300,000 gallon water tank. A very large diesel fire pump pushes the water through the system.”

Ordinarily, a firefighter working a house fire might expect 40 to 45 pounds per square inch of pressure from a hand line. The hand lines throughout the Folgers facility operate at 150 psi.

The company requires a minimum of six trained firefighters per shift to operate. That rule is enforced religiously, Elliott said. To maintain their certification, each firefighter must do at least eight hours of refresher training at Delgado annually.

The 60-member ERT at the other Folger’s plant, the largest coffee roasting facility in the world, are available as mutual aid if needed, and vice versa.

“Our hose brigade does a very good job, good enough that we’ve only needed assistance once from the municipal fire department in the last five years,” Elliott said.

Cornerstone’s Cornerstone

Elliott is not the only Louisiana industrial fire chief dependent on Delgado. Stephen Bull is plant protection superintendent at Cornerstone Chemicals, a seven-unit production facility about 20 miles west of New Orleans in Waggaman.

“We use Delgado for all our eight-hour annual refresher training,” Bull said. “And we have been able to develop our own NFPA interior/exterior compliant course. We collaborated with the instructors at Delgado to put the course together.”

In March, members of Bull’s ERT spent three days in the classroom at the training center and then two days on the fire field working with live fire props.

“I should be able to get a whole slew of my guys trained in NFPA 1081 interior and exterior,” Bull said.
Among the host of products made at Cornerstone are acrylonitrile hydrogen cyanide, melamine oleum, sulfuric acid, acrylamide, methyl methacrylate and methacrylic acid. 

“The advent of process safety management has played a big role in bringing industrial fire under control,” Bull said. “We mostly get a lot of small stuff that is easily controlled before it can expand.”

Bull’s ERT consists of four fulltime firefighters and 50 volunteers on the chemical plant payroll. His apparatus consists of a 1996 Quantum pumper converted into a foam engine, two portable 2,000 gpm Patriot monitors, an assortment of other nozzles, a rescue trailer and a hazmat trailer.

Management has made a big investment in fire protection at the 60-year-old plant in recent years, Bull said. Much of that money has gone into capital improvements to the plant’s water system.

Like Folgers, Cornerstone relies on the plant’s public address system to alert the volunteers when they are needed. Also, a channel on the plant radio system is designated for emergencies. 

“We’re a smaller site,” Bull said. “It’s not like one of these huge refineries that involve long distances.”
The Cornerstone ERT averages about 50 calls a year, he said. Most of those involve either work releases or medical issues. Cornerstone does operate its own ambulance on site.

Like everywhere else, scheduling training can be a sticky problem, Bull said. He prefers to schedule training dates early in the year to avoid conflict with vacations or turnarounds. 

“I put out a training calendar in December covering the dates scheduled for the next year,” Bull said. “If a supervisor has a conflict with any of those dates there is still time to tweak the schedule a bit.

Obviously, things come up at the last minute all the time but we generally manage to work around it.”
As to the nature of that training, Bull said extinguishing a live-fire training project is critical.

“These guys don’t do firefighting every day,” he said. “At most, they might fight some kind of fire once a year. So training with live-fire props gives them a chance to feel the heat and still be able to work through a problem in a process unit fire.”

That Delgado’s props utilize functioning valves instead of dummy valves connected to nothing is invaluable, Bull said.

“You have to figure out what valve is appropriate to turn off,” he said. “You have to go through the process of capture and control. That’s more of a real life scenario that adds a sense of realism.”

Bull has spent 17 years as a firefighter, beginning with a municipal department before progressing to Honeywell, Huntington Ingalls Industries and now Cornerstone.  

With regard to mutual aid, Cornerstone enjoys the best situation possible, he said. Straddling the line between two parishes, Cornerstone belongs to not one but two mutual aid associations.

“On the St Charles side we’re near Monsanto, Dow and Valero,” Bull said. “On the Jefferson side, I have more municipal sources I can pull from.”

Cornerstone also picks up the tab for several municipal firefighters to join when ERT members train at Delgado, he said.

Every new employee hired by Cornerstone gets to hear Bull’s pitch about joining the volunteer ERT. Even without a big incentive program, Bull continues to draw recruits.

“You know, it’s really just appealing to their sense of serving their facility and their co-workers,” he said.

Reaching the Pinnacle

Charles Anderson’s job at Pinnacle Polymers in Garyville, LA, gives him authority over safety, environment, health, security and emergency response. Pinnacle produces nearly a billion pounds of polypropylene annually.

Unlike Folgers and Cornerstone, Pinnacle’s ERT consists of both mandatory and volunteer firefighters, Anderson said. The company has been using Delgado for the last 18 years.

“I like Delgado because it’s smaller, more personal,” Anderson said. “A lot of the Delgado instructors know our guys by their names, not just their face.”

Anderson manages an ERT consisting of 50 members, nearly 30 of whom are certified in high angle and confined space rescue. The entire payroll for the plant is only 125 employees.

Pinnacle requires an annual 16-hour refresher on fire and a separate 16-hour refresher on rescue.

The Pinnacle ERT has no fire truck. Like Folgers, it relies on big water feeding fixed systems. With two 3,000 gpm fire water pumps and 18-inch water mains throughout the facility, firefighters can rely on at least 125 psi, Anderson said.

Arranging fire training for shift personnel is relatively easy, Anderson said. The problem is finding time for things like leadership training.

“It can be a challenge because the majority of our fire captains are maintenance mechanics,” Anderson said. “That means pulling most the maintenance mechanics at one time.”

Additional live-fire props at Delgado will give his firefighters a bit more variety when training, he said. 

“Right now we really only have the pipe rack scenario and a small process unit,” Anderson said. “In the past Delgado has been more tailored toward marine firefighting. They’re opening it up a little bit more for the industrial side.”

Like Folgers, Pinnacle has donated process units and vessels taken out of service to the Delgado fire field.

Beyond live-fire exercises, Anderson plans to introduce his ERT to training via virtual reality, a program that Delgado uses extensively with its marine training.

“I’ve seen what they’ve done, just in demonstrations,” he said. “The interactive ability of it is just top notch.”

Even without VR, Delgado is a critical component in Pinnacle’s fire protection program.

“That’s not only in fire, but they do onsite training for us regarding rescue, first aid and CPR,” Anderson said.

Phase One

Phase one of the new expansion plan involved replacing all lines, tanks and pumps in use on the fire field, as well as adding concrete troughs. That phase is expected to be completed in March, Schwab said.
With that done, the next step for Delgado is installing electrical backup generators to keep the center operating no matter what crises plagues the rest of New Orleans, Schwab said.

Delgado is also taking steps to allow firefighters to train using actual AFFF instead of training from alternatives. Besides upgrading the water treatment plant, Delgado is adding a 10,000 gallon tank to store untreated water until it can be taken away.

At present, the fire field props are limited to only two burns a day using actual AFFF, Schwab said.
Along with the new props, the limestone topping that covers the fire field will be replaced by concrete. Beyond that, plans call for a concrete topping for the entire facility in the next 18 months. That project, aimed at improving parking, will take advantage of four acres of property recently donated by Delgado’s neighbors, NASA and the U.S. Coast Guard.

“It took us a long time to get that done but the four acres are directly adjacent to the fire school,” Schwab said.

Delgado has also invested In a live-fire training system that can travel. 

“Basically it’s a trailer that carries four different live-fire props,” Schwab said. “It includes two big 140-gallon propane tanks. We will be able to do incipient firefighting on the road.”

Schwab said the reaction to the improvements so far have been exciting to see.

“People see we are putting money back into our facility,” he said. “Even with the crisis in state funding and everything else we have been lucky to have Delgado supporters.”