- Photos by Anton Riecher

Photos by Anton Riecher

Without the help of a legion of guest instructors, the annual Industrial Fire School conducted by Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) at Brayton Fire Training Field in College Station, TX, would be impossible to manage, said TEEX Emergency Services Institute Director Robert Moore.

 “I have great guest instructors that take care of everything,” Moore said. “I don’t have enough staff members to handle these size schools otherwise.”

On July 13 through18, the 52nd Industrial Fire School attracted 688 industrial firefighters and safety officers. Attendees were members of industrial emergency response brigades and safety officers from some of the world’s largest oil, gas and chemical companies from 30 states and 12 countries.

Twenty-one courses were offered with the assistance of 231 guest instructors. Courses covered industrial fire fighting, rescue, hazardous materials, specialized operations and professional development

“These guest instructors have been coming here for years and years,” Moore said. “They’re committed. This is their school. They feel they have part ownership in it. They are committed to come and make it the biggest and best school in the world – which it is.”

For example, David Atkinson, an emergency prevention and response captain with Eastman Chemical in Longview, TX, has been instructing on the loading terminal project for nearly seven years. He is also an instructor on the school’s marine project.

“TEEX offers us the opportunity to move to multiple projects which expands our training and our background,” Atkinson said. “On this project I work with a good team. I enjoy the time that we share in fellowship and learn from each other about this project.”

The project, designated Prop 44, consists of an in-depth spill covering approximately 2,400 square feet, within a loading facility area consisting of multiple elevated storage vessels and pumps with numerous flange and overfill scenarios. The training provides students with a basic understanding of the concepts, hardware and functions necessary to control and extinguish a loading terminal emergency.

 It represents a common hazard found throughout industry, Atkinson said.

“Process safety management allows us to have everything in place to deal with this kind of emergency,” he said. “But you have to train for the worst case scenarios. This project gives us the ability to do that.”

Ted Wallace, a security and ER supervisor for PCS Phosphate in Aurora, NC, has been an instructor on Prop 47, simulating tank and dike fires, for six years. Like Atkinson, Wallace believes his prop offers students unique opportunities.

“It gives the guys the chance to work on multiple burns and attempt multiple blocks during a single evolution,” Wallace said.

Flammable liquid process tank fires challenge the students, and spill fires add to the complexity by surrounding the two smaller of three tanks. The project is made up of one 30-foot open tank and two 12-foot open top tanks with dike fires and several critical exposures. Project orientation includes foam types, foam applications techniques, compatibility of foams, eduting equipment, foam nozzles, and adjustable fog nozzles.

Wallace’s assessment of his students after one particular evolution indicated room for improvement. “They started out alright,” Wallace said.

“They got their orders, but when they got out on the project they kind of got away from each other. You have to have a little more control on the field, have one or two people in charge so that everyone isn’t doing the same thing.”

Co-instructing with Wallace was Danny Forbes, a shift captain with the emergency response team at Eastman Chemical in Texas City, TX. Forbes, a 20-year member of the emergeny response team, is also administrative supervisor of the plant.

“The students impressed me by working together,” Forbes said. “They were all eager to work. But they need to yell out their commands. They are still a little timid. Other students were a bit too rambunctious, wanting to tackle the fire when it was not quite ready for them to move in.”

As a guest instructor, Patricia Thomas, president of Thomas Loss Control in Colleyville, TX, is not assigned to a particular project but instead to a section of students moving among the 22 live-fire projects available at Brayton.

“I work with them, helping them get their credentials at the end of the week and pass all the modules they need,” Thomas said.

A 30-year veteran as a guest instructor, Thomas shepherded a section of students that included four visiting Jamaican firefighters.

“We’re an international school, so we get people from all over the world,” she said.

Most of the Jamaican students, such as Steve Crook, work for the 50,000 barrels-per-day PetroJam oil refinery in Kingston. He said the first TEEX project he was assigned to was a terrifying experience.

“At first I was shaking because I’m not used to these kinds of fires and sounds,” Crook said. “I finally got adjusted to it.”

Unlike the other Jamaicans, Andrew Lamb of Kingston, works for J. Wray & Nephew Ltd., one of the country’s leading rum distillers. Even though alcohol is a polar solvent rather than a hydrocarbon, the fire fighting techniques taught at TEEX are easily applied to it, he said.

“If we have a fire at the plant, there is a risk of loss of life,” Lamb said. “But if it gets away from the plant, it will affect the community as well.”

The July heat in Texas was not that different from back home, he said.

“We were expecting worse weather,” Lamb said. “It’s pretty warm but not unbearable.”

Dale Dozier and Don Davis, both employed by the 270,000 barrels per day capacity Valero refinery in St. Charles, LA, were attending the school to obtain certification that would qualify them as future instructors.

“We’re here for command and control training,” he said. “Instead of hose handling, we’re talking about master streams. You don’t send guys in with hoses to put out a tank fire. You use master streams.”

As firefighters, both Dozier and Davis are veterans of the epic June 2001 Orion oil refinery fire in Norco, LA., in which a 270- foot diameter gasoline storage tank ignited and burned in the midst of Tropical Storm Allison. Dozier responded to the scene when the tank’s floating roof sank prior to ignition.

“We were trying to pump the product down because management didn’t want to foam the tank,” Dozier said. “That afternoon, the storm was rolling in with fierce winds blowing, rain, thunder and lightning. The third strike did not actually hit the tank but the flash was enough to light it off.”

With the help of Dwight Williams and Williams Fire & Hazard Control, firefighters were able to extinguish the record fire within 13 hours.

The industrial school had its own problems with rain during the week. Brayton Fire Training Field was briefly ordered to be evacuated when detectors indicated lightning within a 20 mile radius, Moore said.

“We are truly concerned with the safety of our students, guest instructors and staff,” Moore said. “We don’t want anybody out here in the event we do have a lightning strike.”

Once the storm cleared, instructors went back to supervising live-fire exercises. However, Mark Turvey, assistant fire chief with Lubrizol Corp. in Deer Park, TX, focused his efforts on big water instead of big fire.

Eventually, using pumps, monitors and hose gathered around the Brayton Fire Training Field pond, the advanced industrial apparatus class, better known as pump ops, sustained a firewater flow of 20,000 gallons per minute.

“The equipment we’re using is not owned by TEEX but by the vendors,” Turvey said. “We’re very pleased they support our project.”