Plugging the dike: Dutch port chief visits US fire symposium
By ANTON RIECHER/IFW Editor
In North America, the containment surrounding a flammable liquid storage tank is known as a dike. However, Jan Waals, in charge of emergency response for Europe’s largest port, is more likely to think of a dike as a wall built to keep the Atlantic Ocean from flooding his native country, not crude oil.
“The Netherlands is a very small country with a lot of inhabitants,” he said. “Every square meter must be used to its maximum. All the installations in the port, the industrial plants, operate so close together.”
Waals is director of the 315-member Joint Fire Brigade, an organization that provides firefighting and other assistance in or near the Port of Rotterdam. The brigade is a joint venture of the city of Rotterdam and nearly 60 companies operating in or near the massive port.
The director was among the fire protection experts on hand for the US Fire Pump Big Water Symposium conducted in October at the Carrol L. Herring Fire & Emergency Training Institute in Baton Rouge, LA.
Europeans refer to the collection pits surrounding their storage tanks as bunds. Waals’ 60-square-kilometer (37 miles) jurisdiction is home to nearly 5,600 storage tanks of various sizes, including more than 500 measuring 200 feet (60 meters) or greater in diameter.
Because of that congestion, bunds are subject to government scrutiny as tight as that covering the construction of the tanks, Waals said.
“There is new legislation in The Netherlands,” he said. “It says we must extinguish any bund fire within a four-hour minimum. These bunds can be as large as 10,000 square meters.”
Meeting this stringent new standard is complicated by the ongoing controversy regarding continued use of fluorinated firefighting foam, Waals said.
“In Germany, the government is already fining fire brigades using fluorinated foam for millions in euros,” he said. “In The Netherlands I think in about two or three years it will not be possible to use fluorine foam.”
Unfortunately, Waals said he is “not impressed” with the fluorine free foams he has seen demonstrated. Members of the Joint Fire Brigade were on hand for the LASTFIRE “Cradle to Grave” foam summit conducted earlier in October at the DFW Fire Training Research Center in Texas.
“They told me the fluorine free foam shown there had problems achieving flame collapse,” Waals said. “The test didn’t seem to end.”
At present, the Joint Fire Brigade has stockpiled nearly 60,000 gallons of C6 chemistry fluorine firefighting foam kept in six trailers, he said. The brigade is also equipped with large volume monitors and large diameter hose.
The most recent storage tank emergency involved an explosion that blew the roof off a methanol tank two years ago, Waals said.
“We were able to set up for the foam attack within an hour,” he said. “The attack itself was accomplished within 40 minutes.”
The legislation on industrial firefighting in The Netherlands continues to evolve. The latest action taken calls for the Joint Fire Brigades’ industrial customers to take greater responsibility for installing and maintaining fixed fire protection systems.
Meanwhile, the Joint Fire Brigade is researching further acquisition of mobile equipment, Waals said.
“We saw US Fire Pumps on the Internet and that they had some very nice products,” he said. “So we thought we would attend the symposium.”