Municipal, military and airport fire apparatus are often relied on as part of a facility’s fire response strategy. All but the largest industrial facilities – those that operate full scale fire brigades that are organized more like a city fire department – rely on off-site apparatus. For example, I was involved in a recent discussion where the ability of a large municipal fire department to deliver foam to a manufacturing plant flammable liquids hazard was evaluated. Even if the capability exists today, there are several reasons that capability might not exist over the long term. The problem, therefore, is that the facility, its insurer or other stakeholders might not ever be aware of a change in capability.

The following paragraphs outline some real changes that might influence capability. It is critical that the assumptions made about off-site fire fighting capability be documented and then regularly validated. Just because the fire chief told the plant manager five years ago – “no problem, we can easily do that” – does not mean it holds true today.

Our article from the last issue of Industrial Fire World discussed the use of elevated master streams. One of the key concepts mentioned is the ability to position the vehicle safely, yet still in range so that the elevated stream can accomplish its objective. When a municipal fire apparatus committee is designing a new piece of equipment, it might not recall that a specific capability was relied upon by a given facility. It may specify an elevated stream that can no longer accomplish that objective. The committee will be thinking about the overall good of its community but may not remember specific facility needs.

 For example, the facility might be relying on an articulating boom to reach a tank that needs cooling. Perhaps a “straight stick aerial” is not maneuverable enough. Another example might be replacing a tractor trailer (tillered) aerial with a tandem axel straight chassis. The new apparatus might not be able to negotiate a tight turn inside the facility. I can recall watching a new pumper being checked to see if it could fit under an overhead obstruction that the apparatus it replaced could easily clear.

 Although not optimized for industrial fire fighting (as discussed in previous articles), airport (or military) crash trucks are often relied upon for flammable liquids hazards, despite their many drawbacks. Two recent changes that could further impact their usefulness have occurred:

1.) In an effort to be more environmentally conscious, foam compounds are being used with compressed air. While the compressed air foam agent may perform well on aircraft fires, sustained operation (an hour or more) may not be possible due to air supply limitations.

2.) The use of low volume, ultra high pressure pumps appear to improve suppression of aircraft fuel fires. However, the stream from the vehicle’s turret nozzle may be of limited value at tank fires. Because the fine droplets might be applied such that they are carried away by the thermal updraft from the tank fire. The technology is just too new to know for sure.

 It is worth repeating that the purpose of airport crash trucks is not to fight industrial-type fires. None the less, they are relied on for this purpose in many cities and are called to many industrial fires with the expectation that their foam can mitigate a flammable liquids hazard. Vehicles once marginal at industrial fire fighting may now be even less capable.

Many times a plan is not only dependent on a specific type of apparatus but on the incident commander’s understanding of the plan and willingness to implement it. In one example, the chief of operations of a medium sized fire department convinced the insurer that he could manage a hazard. He presented robust plans on how he would do so. Upon a return visit the following year, the chief had been promoted to a different position. His replacement was unaware of the plan nor did he seem inclined to use it. The plan was no longer given any insurance credit.

In another case, an airport crash truck was rigorously tested and found capable of performing a function for which it was not specifically designed. The chief who oversaw this plan was reassigned. It is therefore necessary to ensure that the replacement chief is aware of the plan and willing to implement it.

The easy answer to the above issues is to provide robust fixed fire protection that does not require any support from fire service apparatus. Although that is ideal and a long-term goal that an industrial facility should work towards, fiscal reality often results in acceptance of a system that does require some degree of fire apparatus support. The less specialized the needed apparatus, the more robust the plan. For example, if any engine company could do the job and it is a normal function such as supporting a dry standpipe in a parking deck, the plan will be robust. The more specialized the equipment becomes, along with the knowledge to operate it, the less robust the plan.


 Although it is preferable not to rely on support from fire apparatus – other than final extinguishment at a properly sprinklered industrial facility – the fact is that many facility fire protection strategies rely on some fire apparatus support. It is important that that the expectations and abilities be documented. If the expectations can no longer be met, then alternative strategies are needed. Feel free to contact the author at [email protected].

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