Firefighters deal with flames pushing down while moving into position to tackle the pipe alley project. - Photo by Anton Riecher.

Firefighters deal with flames pushing down while moving into position to tackle the pipe alley project.

Photo by Anton Riecher.

Victor DeLeon, a rookie with the volunteer fire brigade at Houston’s PVC Group, gave a candid response when asked why he attended the 54th Industrial Fire School in July at Brayton Fire Training Field in College Station, TX.

“It’s great experience,” he said. “Maybe one day I can teach for TEEX.”

DeLeon was among 654 fire brigade members or safety officers from 32 states and 10 nations attending this year’s four-day training regime conducted by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX). By comparison, the 2015 industrial school drew 620 students.

Beside TEEX staff members, the industrial school students were taught by 249 guest instructors, most of whom are active or retired members of industrial fire brigades.  It is this elite group that DeLeon hopes to join someday.

In the meantime, DeLeon and many of his fellow firefighters attended the school to either obtain or renew their qualification as required by NFPA 1081 standard for industrial fire brigade membership.

Like DeLeon, Spencer Thibodaux is a first-year volunteer industrial fire brigade member seeking his 1081 qualification. He works as an operator at Alon Refining in Krotz Springs, LA, and says that volunteering for the fire brigade is a simple matter of self-preservation.

“That refinery is the place I work,” Thibodaux said. “It’s my livelihood. If that place burns to the ground, I don’t have a job.”

Located on the Atchafalaya River between Lafayette and Baton Rouge, the refinery has a throughput capacity of 74,000 barrels per day. Although it belongs to a mutual aid association, Thibodaux said the objective of the fire brigade is to “do everything we can before mutual aid is brought in.”

As for his time on the fire field, Thiboadaux said the toughest training prop he fought was project 46, the rail car loading rack. It is designed to simulate emergencies while loading or unloading general purpose or pressurized rail cars at a loading rack.

“It’s one of the biggest props out here,” he said. “We had to wear full SCBA on that one.”

Fire and spill problems include open dome fires, overfills, loading line leaks, and flange separations. Associated with this project are two sets of pumps with multiple leak sources, which can be liquid or propane gas, and a compressor with a pressurized propane leak.

Ricky Allred of Western Refining in Gallup, NM serving as guest instructor on the project, took a frank stance with the students about the need for teamwork. He illustrated the point with a scenario about two fire brigade members not on the best of terms.

“David and I work together, but we don’t like each other,” Allred said. “When he sees me coming, I turn the other way. When I see him coming, I turn the other way.”

Anybody tackling the railcar loading rack prop with that attitude risks failing their NFPA 1081 test, Allred said.
“We’ve got to work as a team,” Allred said. “Everybody talks to everybody.”

He also noted that the incident commander chosen for the training evolution would be a woman.

“We’ve got some guys that don’t like to work with women,” Allred said. “You’d better put all that behind you.”

Another rookie, Matt Bennett with Holly Frontier in Cheyanne, WY, said the entire facility at Brayton is impressive. The 297-acre facility boasts 132 specific training stations.

“It is so well organized and they take good care of you,” Bennett said. “There are so many instructors.”

Bennett has been a Holly Frontier employee for 17 years, despite this being his first year on the voluntary fire brigade.

“I finally had enough free time to get here and learn some of this stuff,” Bennett said.

Of the four training props Bennett had tackled so far – the special hazards area (41), pump alley (42), aerial cooler (43) and the rail car loading rack, the aerial cooler had earned his respect.

“The aerial cooler kind of kicked our butts,” he said.

The aerial cooler is the largest burn prop at Brayton. Firefighters tackled fire in the smaller of two aerial coolers or fin fans. The prop also reproduces burning pumps, overhead flanges and tube ruptures.

Ken Berryman, a retired firefighter with Lyondell, acted as guest instructor on the aerial cooler. He stressed asking specific questions upon arrival to prioritize what must be done.

“Do we have isolation?” Berryman asked. “Is there any remote control available? Is everyone accounted for? What is the wind direction? Are there electrical issues?"

Of those questions, the most important to immediately ascertain is, “Is everyone accounted for?” he said.

A rapid intervention team consists of two or more firefighters on standby to rescue firefighters in trouble. However, one student said he was confused about how strictly the “firefighters only” aspect of RIT should be interpreted.

“RIT is for emergency responders,” Berryman said. “But if you have an operator lying beside the firefighter, grab them both.”

He also emphasized that for the purposes of the demonstration LPG fueled fires should never be completely extinguished, allowing unignited gas to accumulate.

“We do not want to blow the fire out with a fixed monitor, Blitz or a hand line,” Berryman said. “Put a pattern on it, tighten it up a bit, then get capture and control.”

Michael McMurrin, a firefighter with Marathon in Texas City, TX, was still another student on hand with less than a year’s experience. He said the props that proved most helpful to him were the one that most closely resembled his own refinery.

“The railcar loading dock and the compressor station (33) are units where there is fuel leaking out of flanges and stuff like that,” he said.

Project 34, the chemical complex, meets that definition. The structure is designed to train firefighters on using more than one type of extinguishing agent simultaneously on a multi-level fire. Multiple hose lines using water and foam are required for fuel valve isolation and personnel protection. Dry chemical extinguishers are used to extinguish isolated fires.

Chuck Adams, battalion chief for Valero in St. Charles, LA, served as guest instructor on the chemical complex. Out of 15 consecutive years attending the industrial fire school, he has been a guest instructor for the last six.

“The chemical complex can be burned in any number of ways,” Adams said. “We’re keeping it simple because this is a basic 1081 class.”

He brought 22 other firefighters from Valero to participate as students this year.

“About a dozen are here for 1081,” Adams said. “The rest are either taking NFPA 1041 or 1081 advanced for officers.”

NFPA 1041 qualifies the student as a fire instructor.

As every year, a solemn ceremony honored tenured guest instructors who have died since the last school. Among the 18 new names added to the memorial wall, retired Union Carbide fire chief Joe Brantley was missed in particular. As fire school chaplain, he always led the prayer during previous ceremonies.

Adams said the memorial service remains an important part of the annual fire school.

“It’s all about tradition,” he said. “It’s about honoring those who have gone before you and paved the way.”

Editor's note: Watch IFW video coverage of the TEEX fire school.