When an entrepreneur leaves a business he has built over a lifetime, many things change. The market can get better or worse, said Dwight Williams, one of the highly regarded innovators in industrial firefighting today.
“It’s apparent to me that there is room for a foam manufacturer who makes a premiere product,” Williams told the audience at the U.S. Fire Pump “Big Water” Symposium in November In Baton Rouge.
Williams, who retired in 2012, announced from the podium his new partnership with Auxquimia Fire Fighting Products of Spain to introduce a “signature” brand to the firefighting foam market that will bear his name.
“That’s been my motto since 1969,” Williams said. “If you can’t put your name on it, don’t build it.”
He said he expects Auxquimia to have the new brand ready by January 17, his birthday.
Among the few details about the new products released by Williams and Auxquimia general manager Javier Castro Bigotes at the symposium is that the new foam will utilize C6 fluorine chemistry and a critical application rate lower than ever before.
“This is the lowest application rate we have ever seen,” Williams said.
To illustrate its effectiveness, Williams used side-by-side videos of testing done by Auxquimia using the new product and fluorine free foam being used to extinguish test fires.
“If you’ll notice the prototype has already extinguished the fire,” Williams said. “When you look at the fluorine free it hasn’t even got a bite on it yet.”
By decreasing the molecular chain length of the fluorinated materials used from eight carbon atoms to only six, manufacturers can effectively reduce precursors of PFOA, an environmentally persistent byproduct, while retaining the recognized benefits of fluorine in firefighting foam.
One of those benefits is the fuel shedding capabilities of fluorine materials, Williams said.
“The synthetic without the fluorine picks up fuel in the bubble wall, allowing it to burn,” he said. “To believe that you can take fluorine free foam and extinguish a tank fire is a little bit stupid.”
Utilizing C6 fluorine chemistry is also important in achieving the lower application rate, Williams said.
“If you were to use an application rate high enough using fluorine free foam you might put the fire out,” he said. “We’re not sure you can because of the fuel contamination of the bubble.”
With regard to applying the foam, Williams had praise for Chris Ferrara, owner and president of U.S. Fire Pump, as an innovator.
“The real truth is Chris Ferrara took my place,” Williams said. “Chris’ group is sharp and aggressive ... just maybe not as good looking as we used to be.”
Williams took time to reflect on his career and the lessons learned from a lifetime of industrial firefighting.
“I tried to minimize risks,” he said. “A commander can take a hill by putting his men in a line and screaming ‘kill.’ How many men are you going to lose? Or he can call in an air strike and set the enemy on fire instead.”
Williams referred to the equipment sold by U.S. Fire Pump as “the artillery” that firefighters need.
“It can pick up the ammunition, which is water, and deliver it with authority and decisiveness,” Williams said. “That’s how you minimize risk.”
However, not every refinery has basic resources to support the large volume equipment needed against a jumbo storage tank fire, he said.
“Go to a major refinery,” Williams said. “You say ‘Chief, what is your biggest tank?’ He says 250 feet. Then ask him if he has the wherewithal to put it out. Sometimes they look around to see where the boss is before they answer.”
New refineries have sufficient water pressure and volume to put out their worst fire, he said. Most refineries do not.
Knowing how to use the equipment helps maximizing success, he said. He pointed to the photo of a 6,000 gpm monitor being brought to bear against a 200-foot diameter tank.
“The back wall will be the first to go out,” Williams said. “Address it with sufficient authority and it can be done in a matter of seconds.”
He compared it to bear hunting using a 375 rifle and hollow point ammunition instead of an ordinary .22.
“Hit him one time and he’s dead,” Williams said.
Also important is setting your priorities. Williams referred to a photograph of a tank farm fire. The wall of the burning tank was glowing orange when he arrived, he said. Yet there were other things more important.
“Right over here is a whole bank of propane bullet tanks,” he said. “What do you do? Forget that tank fire. Put the water on what is going to kill you right now.”
Williams also gave the attendees tips on foam application rates. The NFPA recommends a Type 3 over the top foam application at .16 gpm/sq. ft. as a minimum.
“Remember, that’s a minimum,” Williams said. “It’s not a standard. If you’re jumping out of an airplane you don’t want a parachute that just barely saves your life.”
For anything up to 150 feet away, .16 is fine, he said. From 150 to 200 feet away, he prefers .18. At more extreme distances he recommends 2.5.
“How much foam are you going to use?” Williams asked. “All you can. This is not a game where you play fair. It’s a knife fight.”
Determine your requirements as to water and foam. Gallons of water per minute times the percent of concentrate gives you the foam requirement. The solution times the duration rate gives you the gallons per minute of foam needed on site.
“If you’re going to flow 12,000 gallons a minute, how much water do you need?” he asked. “You need enough for at least 65 minutes.”
After extinguishment, you will need a foam blanket. The magic number is .62. Take a 270-foot diameter tank and multiply the square footage times .62. Square footage is determined by multiplying the square root of the tank radius times Pi (3.14).
“You say ‘Dwight, where did you get .62?” Williams said. “I kept doing it until I found a number that worked.”
When water at the scene is precious, get innovative, Williams said. If bad weather has flooded the berms of the surrounding storage tanks, draft it from there.
Controlling the surface fire may not be the only problem. About half the time a tank fire will have pressure fires to go with it, Williams said.
“When the pan sinks it’s going to punch holes in the tank floor,” Williams said. “You’re going to have fires under the leg where fuel is coming out on the ground.”
The text book says put the pressure fire out first. Williams has never followed that recommendation.
“The foam will tie up a bunch of that pressure fire,” he said. “As you get flame collapse and you get control, have a REACT team go in and shoot out the pressure fires with dry chemical.”
If you don’t put the pressure fire out, it will reignite the tank. Is going into the tank and using water to relieve the fire an option? Sure, Williams said, but how about using the tank valve to pump water into the tank. Or you can use an over the top application to fill the tank.
Being serious about your work is one thing, Williams said. Having a sense of humor is important too. Among the more foolish techniques applied to storage tank firefighting is using helicopters/airplanes to make an aerial drop. He referred to a refinery fire following an earthquake outside the U.S.
“I was a paratrooper and I know how hard it is to hit a drop zone,” he said. “The government called and asked me about doing this. I said ‘Is there anybody in your outfit that’s got brains I can talk to?’”
Williams was just as blunt giving his opinion about changes in industrial fire protection during his five year absence. Foam today is being made to do one thing – pass a simple test as cheaply as possible, Williams said.
“The environmental people are trying to get you to use something that will not even get a bite on a plunge test fire,” he said. “They’re not the ones to go to the widow’s house when somebody gets killed.”