Zach Slapak of the Painesville Township (OH) Fire Department was only a week away from attending the annual Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service Industrial Fire School in July when his town played host to an industrial fire that made national news.
“The company involved makes metallic effect pigments and pearlescent pigments,” Slapak said. “There were all sorts of metal shavings involved.”
It took Painesville and 15 other fire agencies nearly 4½ hours to bring the fire under control. Multiple explosions were heard inside the burning plant.
Aside from the pigments plant, Painesville’s industrial base includes a Lubrizol facility for manufacturing chemical additives used in lubricants. A Painesville responder is always included among Lubrizol firefighters attending the industrial school in Texas.
“Lubrizol has been paying to send one of our firefighters here every summer for the last 20 years,” Slapak said.
The industrial fire school, held July 16 through the 21, trained 614 members of industrial emergency response brigades and safety officers from some of the world’s largest chemical and petrochemical companies. More than 20 courses, most of them ProBoard certified, were conducted with the assistance of 239 guest instructors.
For Slapak, the greatest difference between municipal and industrial firefighting is having more room to work.
“You’re not in a confined space,” he said. “Everything is in the open. It’s not just a matter of putting the wet stuff on the red stuff. You’ve got to worry about flammable vapors as well. Capturing those different gases is difficult.”
Among the different methods and tactics involved in industrial firefighting is a greater reliance on fog nozzles and using fog patterns to capture the flames.
“We carry some foam but not enough to do anything like this,” Slapak said.
Painesville City is not the only location to make an annual appearance at the fire school. Richard Freckleton is a shift supervisor with the 36,000 barrels a day Petrojam refinery in Kingston, Jamaica, also serving on the refinery’s emergency response team.
“This is an annual event for our ERT,” Freckleton said. “Sending people to the industrial school helps us improve our firefighting capabilities.”
Freckleton, a repeat visitor to the fire school, said his team is expected to be able to hold and control any fire until help arrives from the municipal department. Attending to maintain his NFPA 1081 certification, he said the Jamaican firefighters were focusing on dealing with LPG fires.
“We produce a lot of LPG,” he said. “It’s important to know the techniques to control that type of fire.”
For Clint Brown, a project scheduler for the AdvanSix chemical plant in Hopewell, VA, the visit to the fire school was an opportunity to train as a firefighter, face a large process fire, learn to fight large bulk storage tank fires that involve preparing mentally, emotionally and develop the physical skill needed.
“To accomplish this task I needed a training ground that could simulate the industrial process,” he said. “Very few training facilities provide a realistic enough simulation of our site to meet this test, but this one does.”
AdvanSix is the number one producer of caprolactam, the primary feedstock for the nylon polymer used in carpet fibers, plastics and films.
Before moving to Virginia nine months ago, Brown had lived his entire life in Texas. However, this trip marked his first visit to the Brayton Fire Training Field, part of the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service.
Wanting to serve on the plant’s ERT in Hopewell is something that “was driving me inside,” Brown said.
“I wanted to help somebody if they were in need,” Brown said. “Whenever everyone else is running out, I wanted to be one of the guys running in. If I could save one person it would be worth it to me.”