- Photo by Anton Riecher

Photo by Anton Riecher

One fire training simulation at Brayton Fire Training Field in Texas in particular seemed to divide responders attending the Shell Oil Products and Motiva Enterprises corporate fire school held in February at the Brayton Fire Training Field in Texas.

That simulation, designated as prop 50, is the structural burn complex fire, also known as the smokehouse. Hay bales are burned in a darkened metal building to simulate heat and reduced visibility.

“They either love it or love to hate it,” said Shane Stuntz, emergency response coordinator for Motiva Enterprises in Convent, LA. “It seems like the group we have this time have had a lot of experience as interior firefighters in the past.”​​

More than 150 industrial firefighters protecting Shell Oil Products and Motiva Enterprises oil and chemical production facilities gathered in College Station, TX, for the joint corporate fire training school. The Motiva Convent facility brought 20 students for the corporate school.

Members of the Shell-Motiva fire protection team meet at Brayton three times a year. Brayton is the largest live-fire firefighter training facility in the United States with 22 full-size live-fire projects or props simulating various industrial settings.

The firefighters on hand represented industrial facilities in the United States and Canada.

The structural burn complex fire utilizes Class A combustibles for all scenarios. It consists of multiple rooms with doorway for entry and windows for various types of ventilation techniques. This project has exterior as well as interior stairways for access.

Industrial firefighters usually skip the project when they come to Brayton, concentrating mainly on exterior firefighting props. However, the disciplines governing structural and industrial fire fighting are crossing over more frequently, Stuntz said.

Structural and industrial fire fighting involve separate tactics to a certain degree but some of the basic concepts are the same, he said.

“Fortunately, more of industry is recognizing the necessity of having someone on site trained to protect exposures around a structure and prevent someone getting hurt,” Stuntz said.

Stuntz started his fire service career as an industrial firefighter, later joining the municipal volunteer fire department in St. Amant, LA.

Jeremy Dewald, an Emergency Services team lead for the Shell Scotford Refinery in Fort Saskatchewan, AB, Canada said the firefighters he brought from the oil sands territory in Canada have enjoyed training on prop 50, which they dubbed “The House of Pain”!

“Shell recognizes the need for interior firefighting,” Dewald said. “We do have buildings that would expose our volunteers and full-time firefighters to structural firefighting. It’s a competency which is required to ensure we can protect all of our assets at Shell.

Dewald’s site and the Shell Sarnia Refinery in Ontario, near Detroit, were the only two sites outside the United States to send firefighters to the corporate school. Ordinarily a large number of overseas students attend.

Fire training is difficult to come by in Canada during the winter months, Dewald said.

“We have competencies which are maintained annually,” Dewald said. “It’s tough for us in Canada because we don’t have any fire schools open in the winter months. It’s a real benefit for us to visit TEEX.”

In addition to TEEX, Shell Scotford brigade members make the two-hour drive to a fire school at Lakeland College in Vermillion, AB for training.

“Annually we have to meet a job performance review so we have to train to NFPA 1081 as per our downstream standard for emergency response,” Dewald said.                                          C

One simple step taken by the fire school coordinators forces greater participation from those making the trip to TEEX, said Mark Kinchen, emergency response coordinator for Shell Chemical in Geismar, LA.

“We’ve reduced the size of the roster of student assigned to each prop,” Kinchen said. “That’s so there is no room to hide for those who hang back. Everybody is engaged the whole time.”

Kinchen brought 29 students from his site. Beside advanced fire fighting, the corporate school offers training in leadership development.

“Our standard requires that firefighters attend the corporate school once every three years,” Kinchen said. “We run three to four corporate schools a year that will have anywhere from 120 to 180 firefighters in attendance.”

Another Shell corporate school is already planned for TEEX in late March. The schools are scheduled when the availability of the training field is simultaneous with plant turnarounds during which firefighters can be released for up to a week.

Lamell Julien, a process technician at Shell Geismar, is also a member of the fire crew. His experience in the Navy keeps bringing him back to firefighting.

“In 1995 I served as a machinist’s mate on the USS Florida, a nuclear submarine,” Julien said. “On that ship the machinist’s mates were also the firefighters that responded to any fire or emergency on board.”

After he left the Navy, Julien spent more than four years as a full-time paid firefighter with municipal department in Louisiana. In the early 2000s, he left fire fighting to work in industry. However, the fire fighting itch returned when he joined Shell in 2008.

“The skill set was there,” Julien said. “I’d had a fire background for many years. I can’t see being at our plant and management not being able to depend on me in an emergency.”

Michael Jackson, an emergency response team lead with Motiva in Port Arthur, TX, said his brigade brought 20 firefighters to the school.  Some of the students were fulltime paid firefighters, while others were brigade volunteers who work as operators or engineers.

Even the most experienced firefighters can pick up bad habits without training, Jackson said.

“We had a couple of guys half-gating nozzles,” Jackson said. “In our business we don’t do that. The nozzle is either all the way open or all the way closed.”

Before joining the Motiva fire brigade nine years ago, Jackson spent 18 years as a municipal firefighter in Port Arthur. By contrast, most of the students sent from Port Arthur were either new hires or had only one or two years’ experience.”

“We hire certified fire fighters to maintain the fire brigade,” he said. “The size of the Shell and Motive joint venture requires that we have an actual working fire department just like any municipality does.”

Cory DeMarco is a contract firefighter with Industrial Emergency Services who works with the emergency response team at Shell in Convent, LA. She was also on hand for the Shell-Motiva corporate school.

“I’m just brushing up on stuff that we don’t necessarily work on every day, like hoseline skills, the application of foam and how to make sure you get a good power cone,” she said.