Validating Fire Apparatus Capability for Response to Industrial Facility

Municipal, military, and airport fire apparatus are often relied on as part of a facility’s fire response strategy. All but the largest industrial facilities ­­- those that operate full scale fire brigades that are organized more like a city fire department – rely on off-site apparatus. For example, I was involved in a recent discussion where the ability of a large municipal fire department to deliver foam to a manufacturing plant flammable liquids hazard was evaluated. Even if the capability exists today, there are several reasons that capability might not exist over the long term. The problem, therefore, is that the facility, its insurer or other stakeholders might not ever be aware of a change in capability. In the following paragraphs, I will outline some real changes that we have seen and how that might change the capability. It is critical that the assumptions made about off-site firefighting capability be documented, and then regularly validated. Just because the fire chief told the plant manager five years ago - “no problem, we can easily do that” - it does not mean it holds true today.         We’ll start with our article from the last issue of Industrial Fire World. We discussed the use of elevated master streams. One of the key concepts mentioned was the ability to position the vehicle safely, yet still in range so that the elevated stream can accomplish its objective. When a municipal fire apparatus committee is designing a new piece of equipment, they might not recall that a specific capability was relied upon by a given facility. They may specify an elevated stream that can no longer accomplish that objective. The committee will be thinking about the overall good of its community for sure, but may not remember specific facility needs. For example, the facility might be relying on an articulating boom to reach a tank that needs cooling. Perhaps a “straight stick aerial” is not maneuverable enough. Another example might be replacing a tractor trailer (tillered) aerial with a tandem axel straight chassis. The new apparatus might not be able to negotiate a tight turn inside the facility. I can recall watching a new pumper being checked to see if it could fit under an overhead obstruction that the apparatus it replaced could easily clear. Although not optimized for industrial firefighting (as discussed in previous articles), airport (or military) crash trucks are often relied upon for flammable liquids hazards, despite their many drawbacks. Two recent changes that could further impact their usefulness have occurred: 1)            In an effort to be more environmentally conscious, foam compounds are being used with compressed air. While the compressed air foam agent may perform well on aircraft fires, sustained operation (an hour or more) may not be possible due to air supply limitations. 2)            The use of low volume, ultra high pressure pumps appear to improve suppression of aircraft fuel fires. However, the stream from the vehicle’s turret nozzle may be of limited value at tank fires. This is because the fine droplets might not be able to be applied such that they are not carried away by the thermal updraft from the tank fire. The technology is just too new to know for sure. It is worth repeating that the purpose of airport crash trucks is not to fight industrial type fires. None the less, they are relied on for this purpose in many cities and are called to many industrial fires with the expectation that their foam can mitigate a flammable liquids hazard. Vehicles once marginal at industrial firefighting may now be even less capable. We have also found that many times such a plan is not only dependent on a specific type of apparatus, but on the incident commander’s understanding of the plan and willingness to implement it. In one example, the chief of operations of a medium sized fire department convinced the insurer that he could manage a hazard. He presented robust plans on how he would do so. Upon a return visit the following year, the chief had been promoted to a different position. His replacement was unaware of the plan nor did he seem inclined to use it. The plan was no longer given any insurance credit. In another case, an airport crash truck was rigorously tested and found capable of performing a function for which it was not specifically designed. The chief who oversaw this plan was reassigned. It is therefore necessary to ensure that the replacement chief is aware of the plan and willing to implement it. The easy answer to the above issues is to provide robust fixed fire protection that does not require any support from fire service apparatus. Although that is ideal and a long-term goal that an industrial facility should work towards, fiscal reality often results in acceptance of a system that does require some degree of fire apparatus support. The less specialized the needed apparatus, the more robust the plan will be. For example, if any engine company could do the job and it’s a normal function such as supporting a dry standpipe in a parking deck, the plan will be robust. The more specialized the equipment becomes, along with the knowledge to operate it, the less robust the plan will be.                Conclusion:Although it is preferable not to rely on support from fire apparatus – other than final extinguishment at a properly sprinklered industrial facility – the fact is that many facility fire protection strategies do in fact rely on some degree of fire apparatus support. It is important that that the expectations be documented and that the ability to meet these expectations be regularly documented. If the expectations can no longer be met, then alternative strategies are needed.   Feel free to contact the author at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. XL GAPS is a leading loss prevention services provider and a member of the XL Group of companies.  XL Group plc’s insurance companies offer property, casualty, professional and specialty insurance products globally. Businesses that are moving the world forward choose XL as their partner. To learn more, visit xlgroup.com/insurance.  XL Group is the global brand used by XL Group plc’s insurance subsidiaries.   XL Group plc, through its subsidiaries, is a global insurance and reinsurance company providing property, casualty, and specialty products to industrial, commercial, and professional firms, insurance companies and other enterprises on a worldwide basis. More information about XL Group plc is available at www.xlgroup.com.
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