Pre-planning for a live-fire training exercise should be based on what the responder observes first hand, not on word-of-mouth from other firefighters who have trained using the same prop, said Robert Taylor, fire captain with Chevron’s El Segundo, CA, refinery.
“We want you to read the fire,” he said. “See what is presented to you and react to that based on a combination of your knowledge and experience.”
Taylor served as Chevron’s press liaison during its corporate fire school in April at Brayton Fire Training Field in College Station, TX. He also served as one of 15 fire instructors training the nearly 60 full-time and volunteer firefighters attending.
His comment about pre-planning came during a debriefing following a training scenario involving Brayton’s new 45-foot diameter storage tank project.
“I want you to dissect this on what we think went well and where were the opportunities,” Taylor told the firefighters.
On average, Chevron brings about 200 participants through Brayton every year with corporate fire schools scheduled for March, April and May. Students are drawn from six different Chevron facilities in North America.
“The actual dates change from year to year because each of our facilities is sometimes involved in turnarounds,” Taylor said. “Operations folks just can’t leave during those times.”
Chevron’s refineries have combination fire departments staffed by full time paid firefighters along with members of the emergency response team.
“Some Chevron Fire Departments are structured very much like a municipality,” Taylor said. “They have firefighters, captains and battalion chiefs. Our Richmond location actually uses a lieutenant rank as well. Our Pascagoula Refinery staffs full time folks just with different job titles. Our other smaller facilities draw mostly from their Emergency Response Team.”
The Chevron corporate fire schools have been a fixture at Brayton for more than 25 years. However, this year marked some changes in the fundamentals being taught.
“For the majority of the time we’ve focused on one aspect of firefighting – hose handling,” Taylor said. “We’d stack up a bunch of guys on a hose line, then march in and capture a fuel source. “
While maintaining that skill, Chevron wants its emergency responders to “broaden their horizons,” Taylor said.
“Let’s say that is only one piece of the puzzle,” he said. “And on a particularly large industrial fire you may not even march up to the fire. You may surround and drown. You may use master streams for cooling as part of your incident stabilization strategy.”
Chevron’s vision for the fire school is to expand the use of master streams to not just exposure cooling but some capture and control. Toward that end, Chevron asked Brayton to have a fire truck on hand to use in training.
“We bring an engine out and let the guys pull hose off it,” Taylor said. “It relates to how they would do this at home. We also have plans to phase is the use of a quick-attack truck.”
Some responders leave fire school with a false sense of security, Taylor said. Working with a fire truck rather than just igniting a fire to practice hose handing provides a valuable visual reminder that the responders carry with them. After all apparatus, hose and equipment placement is a critical part of fire suppression. Our goal is to maintain a process of continual improvement through both participant feedback and training gap assessment closure plans while staying in touch with new technology and best practices from actual incidents.
“We want to give them a better picture of what industrial fire really has the potential to do,” Taylor said. “The good thing about doing this at TEEX is that it is a very controlled environment involving flammable liquids and gases.”
Unlike most corporate fire schools that doggedly cling to the same schedule of classes and burns year after year, the Chevron school is built to reflect the company’s “experience gradient.”
“If we had students that all had the same experience level, then we could probably stick to the same schedule,” he said. “But we have folks that are here for the first time working beside folks who have been here 20 times. It’s extremely difficult to teach that wide a range of experience while maintaining the same levels of interest and motivation.”
The order of rotation between the fire field props is established only after an assessment is made of the school’s overall level of experience, Taylor said.
“When you build your curriculum it’s better to give them some simpler props on the first day,” he said. “It allows the students to come together and jell as a team. If you give them too much of a challenge they falter, then their morale drops. When that happens they’re not focused on learning.”
Another benefit to learning is an increase in the instructor-student ratio at the Chevron school. When Taylor attended his first corporate school at Brayton in 1997 only two instructors were assigned to each prop. Today, in accordance with NFPA 1403, Chevron maintains a five to one ratio of students to instructors.
“We use a minimum of four instructors on each prop,” Taylor said. “We want to insure that the students don’t get hurt.”
The trick for instructors is to know when to interrupt and when not, he said.
“We’ve found that if your instructors are teaching by instruction – ‘Do this, do that, open your pattern up’ – the student is not learning,” Taylor said. “He is only following directions. The instructor has to know when to interject, like in the case of an imminent safety threat.”
We must present the fire ground problems to them in a manner that they learn self-recognition skills of fire hazards. Once they gain experience with being able to see things on their own without instructor prompts such as pooling flammable liquids, opposing hose streams and pressurized gas flame impingement, they naturally come up with solutions based on the training they receive monthly at their individual facilities.
Taylor himself led the team of instructors on Project 47, the tank and dike prop. It consists of a 45-foot-diameter, 10-foot- tall storage tank. Fuel sits in a shallow pan near the top of the tank to simulate a storage tank fire. (Visit http://tinyurl.com/mhk7zet for video of the live-fire burn.)
“Be careful when you pre-plan,” Taylor told the students. “Make sure you’re pre-planning for the event you’re actually going to see. We want you to read the fire and react to that.”
The pre-plan devised by the firefighters involved using a large-volume portable attack monitor to extinguish the fire in the tank. However, once the full-surface fire ignited, the firefighters found it difficult to establish a good flow of foam. Abandoning the attack monitor in favor of hand lines, the firefighters climbed to the top of the tank and worked around the edges.
Taylor was fully aware of what the firefighters planned and allowed them to proceed. The mistakes made in drafting that pre-plan informed the learning experience in the debriefing that followed the fire.
“Was there difficulty getting good foam?” Taylor said. “Take a look at your hand line over here. How much hand line do you have? Maybe 250 feet?”
The distance between the nozzle and the educator made it difficult to sustain a steady stream of good foam, he said. The majority of the burning fuel was spent before the firefighters could get into position.
“Let’s get really good at the fundamentals before we attempt the super cool fancy stuff,” Taylor said. “You need to work with eductors at home. If your foam pump fails you can’t just put up your hands and say ‘I can’t put foam on it chief.’”
The fundamental flaw in the pre-plan was the decision to attack the fire by climbing the tank, he said.
“For a seal fire, you had it dead perfect,” Taylor said. “That’s exactly what you want to do. But on a full-surface fire are you ever going to climb up on the tank? Than why would you do it here?”
The live-burn exercise involved 300 gallons of gasoline, he said.
“Now what if it were about 300,000 barrels,” Taylor said. “Can you imagine what the radiant heat would be like? Would you ever in your life consider going up there?”
The better move would have been to substitute a large volume monitor designed to be used from the ground and make a Type 3 “over the top” foam application, he said.
“We want to make training as realistic as possible without simulating an actual event,” Taylor said. “You can really harm yourself and your organization by simulating tactics. We put a stop to that when we see it.”