- Photo by Anton Riecher.

Photo by Anton Riecher.

Save for one hour in the classroom, firefighters attending the four-day PBF Energy fire school conducted at Texas-based Brayton Fire Training Field in November focused solely on practical application and hands-on opportunity.

“We burn,” said Paulsboro, N.J., refinery Fire Chief P.J. Robinson. “We’re here to burn and that’s what we do. We burn the whole time.”

Of the 167 emergency responders and other personnel attending, most originated from industrial sites in the tri-state Delaware River Valley region. Unfortunately, live-fire training there is limited to propane fed simulations only. To test their skills against large-scale liquid hydrocarbon fire, responders must travel to Texas.

Enrollment for the corporate school more than doubled this year, Robinson said. Aside from PBF Energy responders, the school drew many of its attendees from other fire agencies belonging to the Delaware Bay River Cooperative oil spill response mutual aid association.

Add to that PBF Energy’s acquisition of refineries in Ohio, Louisiana and California and the annual corporate school is rapidly becoming one of the major events on the Brayton training calendar.

Many of the refineries participating have a track record of management change and, with it, changing operations policies. The PBF Energy fire school helps forge consistency among mutual aid responders who may be called upon to work together under great stress, Robinson said.

 “It’s been a really great school,” he said. “It’s all the things we can’t duplicate at home. “

Paulsboro, which will be celebrating its one-hundred-year anniversary in 2017, was previously owned by Mobil and Valero. Six years ago it was acquired by PBF.

“The local fire academies only have training fires fueled with propane,” Robinson said. “We really need to fight liquid hydrocarbon fires if we expect our firefighters to be successful.”

 - Photo by Anton Riecher.

Photo by Anton Riecher.

Almost as frequently, the refinery’s emergency responders have had to change where they obtain their specialized training. For many years the fire crew traveled west to attend the now closed Nevada Fire Science Academy. More recently the firefighters have been visiting the Brayton Fire Training Field in College Station, TX.

“When you want to train using large-scale liquid hydrocarbon fires, this is the only place that you can use,” Robinson said. “There are some small venues at the Delaware State Fire School but it would be the equivalent of maybe two props here at Texas A&M.”

Located across the Delaware River from the Philadelphia International Airport, the Paulsboro refinery primarily processes a variety of medium to heavy sour crude oils and predominantly produces gasoline, heating oil and aviation jet fuel. The refinery also manufactures Group 1 lubricant base oils. In addition to its finished clean products slate, Paulsboro produces asphalt and petroleum coke.

The 950-acre facility boasts two fire stations staffed by 180 personnel involved with the various emergency response teams, Robinson said. Apparatus includes two foam engines, a ladder truck, three foam tenders, rescue and hazmat vehicles, two state licensed ambulances and a variety of Tyco Williams Fire & Hazard Control monitors ranging from 6,000 gpm Ambassadors to 10,000 gpm Battlers.

Also located in the Delaware River Valley is PBF’s 210,000 barrels-per-day refinery in Delaware City, DE. Fire Chief Ron Dietrick brought 26 firefighters from his 170-member fire brigade. Delaware City has been part of the PBF Energy fire school since 2012.

“Our training facility at home is a lot smaller than this,” Dietrick said. “This is a lot more realistic, of course. It gives them a chance to build their confidence and feel a little better about what they have to do when they respond.”

The Delaware City refinery’s fire brigade apparatus fleet includes three foam engines, two foam tenders, a hose tender, a tower ladder, ambulance and rescue vehicle. Making use of a 6,000 gpm portable pump, the brigade also fields two Ambassadors, three dry chemical trailers and a variety of nozzles and foam making equipment.

Mutual aid partners attending PBF’s school included Monroe Energy, Axeon and Sonoco Logistics. Each of the participating refineries also brought municipal responders responsible for protecting their facilities.

Joseph Schmidt is fire chief for the 190,000 barrel-a-day Monroe Energy refinery in Trainer, PA, located directly across the river from Robinson’s refinery. He brought nearly 20 responders to the Texas school. Located only five miles south of the Philadelphia International Airport, the Trainer refinery plays an essential role in American aviation.

“Our primary goal is to make as much jet fuel as possible for Delta Airlines,” Schmidt said. “Most of the jet fuel we make goes to Newark International, LaGuardia or JFK. Any gasoline we make gets swapped for jet fuel for Delta hubs in Atlanta and Detroit.”

Trainer’s corporate history is even more diverse than Paulsboro’s. It began life in 1917 as the first facility built by the company that would become Mobil Oil. In subsequent years the refinery has been owned by Sinclair, ARCO, SOHIO, BP, Tosco, Phillips, Conoco Phillips and Valero.

Trainer’s fire brigade consists of five full-time emergency response technicians backed up by 60 brigade volunteers. Like Paulsboro, Trainer’s brigade operates Tyco Williams Fire & Hazard Control pumps and monitors. The brigade also operates two industrial fire engines complete with 3,000 gpm pumps.

Prior to PBF Energy taking the lead in industrial mutual aid, agreements between the refineries tended to be informal, Schmidt said. Like Paulsboro, the Trainer refinery passed through a number of management changes – BP, Phillips and ConocoPhillips – before being acquired by Delta.

 Unfortunately, those long-standing mutual aid agreements tended to fall by the wayside in the process. The decision was made to reorganize industrial mutual aid for the Delaware River Valley using the existing oil spill response organization as an umbrella.

“With the DBRC group already being functional, all we had to do was change some of the bylaws,” Schmidt said.

Each refinery in the mutual aid group has its own special areas of concern, Schmidt said.

“Jet fuel is basically highly refined kerosene,” Schmidt said. “We don’t have a coker unit like Paulsboro but we use heavy fluids such as tars and bunker fuel to power the plant. One of our top priorities is our alkylation unit which involves hydrofluoric acid.”

Also located on the Delaware River is Sunoco Logistics’ Marcus Hook (N.J.) Industrial Complex, involving nearly three million barrels of natural gas storage. Ken Dawson Jr., emergency response specialist at the terminal, brought four Sunoco employees and seven local county firefighters to the Texas school.

“This is our first time at this school,” Dawson said. “I’m impressed by its uniqueness. There’s no other facility that I know of in the U.S. that provides this much opportunity.”

Beyond the Delaware River Valley, firefighters from PBF Energy refineries in Toledo, OH; Chalmette, LA and Torrance, CA, were also on hand for the corporate school. Kevin Kennedy, fire chief at the 170,000 barrel-per-day refinery in Toledo, brought 14 responders to Texas, including two from municipal departments providing mutual aid.

 “We definitely want to reach out to our communities and make sure they’re aware of the hazards,” Kennedy said. “If we do have to call on them in an emergency we want to know they are well trained and well versed in our strategies and tactics for industrial fires.”

The Toledo refinery is fortunate to share a fire training field with BP, Kennedy said.

“We do get to do some liquid burns back home,” he said. “But coming to Brayton is like three years of training back home wrapped up in one week.”

Guy Swinford, safety advisor for emergency preparedness for PBF Energy in Chalmette, LA, brought 22 responders from home, including three members of the St. Bernard Parish (LA) Fire Department.

“Chief Tommy Stone from St. Bernard is here with me,” Swinford said. “We are both instructors for this group. At home our emergency response programs are tightly integrated. It’s not by happenstance that we are texting and communicating with each other on a daily basis.”

Stone said he has visited Brayton 18 times in the last two decades, often as an incident command instructor. His resume as an industrial firefighter includes being on hand for the 2001 Orion refinery storage tank fire in Norco, LA, which still stands as the largest such fire to be extinguished with product saved.

“In exchange for my instructing, the refinery covers the cost of some of our firefighters attending the corporate school,” Thomas said. “So it’s a great relationship.”

 Joe Alvarez, fire chief with PBF’s 155,000 barrels-a-day refinery in Torrance, CA, presides over an 80-member volunteer fire brigade. He brought 25 responders to the corporate school.

“They’re all very passionate about the safety of the refinery,” Alvarez said. “We end up taking care of each other. That refinery is our home and our fire department.”

A unique guest for PBF Energy’s school was a two-member contingent of emergency responders with Consolidated Edison, the power utility for New York State. Distribution transformers filled with oil are one source of fire that utility responders face, said Brian McGeever with ConEd.

“In the winter time the rock salt that’s thrown out to melt the snow causes corrosion in our wires and equipment,” McGeever said.

Training with PBF Energy personnel allows ConEd to keep its responders fully certified as industrial firefighters, he said.

Robinson with PBF Energy in Paulsboro opened his presentation to the firefighters with a bit of research that put their problems in prospective.

“There are 138 million working adults in the United States,” he said. “About 20,000 of them are refinery operators. What has come together at Brayton is a small percentage of that number. Yet they have come here to learn and practice skills that protect the livelihoods of their friends and colleagues back home. This is a fantastic industry that supplies America with energy and transportation fuels and has changed our lives for the better.”