- Photo by Anton Riecher.

Photo by Anton Riecher.

Three million inhabitants of the Caribbean nation of Jamaica depend on a single refinery, Petrojam Ltd., to provide their petroleum. For that reason, Sean Soso and other refinery employees attended the 46th annual Industrial Fire School at the Emergency Services Training Institute in College Station, TX.

"The fact is we're working at a refinery and there is a likelihood of fire at any time," Soso said. "We are the first people to respond."

More than 580 industrial firefighters and safety personnel representing 23 states and 10 countries attended the July fire school held at the Texas Engineering Extension Service's Brayton Fire Training Field.

Firefighters attending the industrial school from The Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Equatorial Guinea, Jamaica, Mexico, Trinidad and the United States.

Brayton boasts more than 100 specific training sites or "props," many of them live-fire, fueled training replicas representing everything from oil tankers to refineries.

Soso said he was a first-time visitor to the school. On the first day of live-fire exercises, he and his Jamacian colleagues trained using the railcar loading rack prop.

"It is important for purposes of insurance that we be certified under NFPA 1081 exterior structural firefighting," Soso said.

Certification was an important issue to many of the firefighters on hand this year. Whereas exterior structural fire fighting has been the chief concern in year's past, certification under NFPA 1081 interior structural fire fighting has also become a focus. Joseph Melton, an operator at the ExxonMobil refinery in Baytown, TX, was one such firefighter.

"Most of us have industrial certification and we had to come get the interior part to deal with fires inside control rooms, trailers and office buildings," Melton said. "It's an area we've like of overlooked in the past."

Working beside the students on the fire field are the instructors. More than 200 highly qualified guest instructors and speakers from industrial and manufacturing companies trained the emergency responders through extensive classroom and hands-on exercises.

Melvin Templeton, a safety inspector with Eastman Chemical in Longview, TX, has helped manage the LPG training prop for five years. However, he resists being dubbed an expert.

"You're never an expert," Templeton said. "If you've been in the business 50 years you're never an expert. There is always something you don't know and need to learn."

Kevin Parker, an operator at the Marathon refinery in Texas City, Texas, was visiting the fire school for the first time in three years to obtain his NFPA 1081 exterior fire fighting certification. A fire marshal for Union Carbide for 17 years before joining Marathon, Parker formerly served as an instructor at the industrial fire school.

"It's good for beginners and it's also good for senior people," Parker said. "You get to go through the different projects and different experiences. Some of those you can use inside the plant."

Parker, who also served as a municipal firefighter in Texas City, only recently joined the fire brigade at Marathon.

"I promised my wife I wouldn't join," Parker said. "The next thing I know somebody told her I was on the fire brigade again." He said the couple has since made peace over the issue.