An industrial fire erupted on October 11, 2012 at an Ohio processing plant that produces cattle feed from vegetable oil. After battling the flames for two hours, fire crews evacuated, due to the potential for explosion of nearby rail cars. According to the Willoughby News Herald, Painesville Township Fire Chief Frank Whittaker said, “The vegetable oil process contained in the cars was not dangerous by itself, but under pressure from the heat of the flames the tankers could vent, potentially causing a catastrophic explosion.”
During a fire response, circumstances can change in an instant. Having current information regarding site-specific facility hazards prior to arriving at an incident can assist in determining response methods and necessary equipment. Utilizing a shared fire pre-plan can minimize impacts and potential catastrophes caused by ill-informed responders. Fire pre-plans can ensure a coordinated, expedient, and safe response in the event of a fire. The faster responders can locate, assess, access, and mitigate the emergency, the sooner an incident can be contained.
Industrial fire pre-plans should include the following information, at a minimum:Building Information:
Address and other location details
Construction and roofing materials
Building use and contents
Description of emergency lighting and alarms
Fire Protection Equipment:
Type of smoke detectors
Description of and location of fire extinguishers
Location of fire hydrants/extinguishers
Type and location of hazards
Flammable materials within the facility and immediate surrounding area
Low hanging power lines
Aerial photograph showing building and surrounding area
Ground-level photographs of exterior sides of building
Type and dimensions
Whittaker revealed that the processing plant fire warranted a defensive response approach from beginning to end. With a combination of the information contained in a fire pre plan and the scope of the incident observed on scene, incident commanders are able evaluate the risk versus reward factors in determining firefighting tactics. If a scenario dictates extreme risks with very little reward, aggressive mitigation and response actions may be terminated in favor of a defensive firefighting mode. After civilian rescue efforts are terminated, the defensive mode is typically chosen to isolate or stabilize an incident, preventing further escalation.
Situations that may dictate an industrial defensive firefighting tactic may include, but not limited to:
- Unsafe structure with no exposure to personnel or residential areas
- Facility Unsafe conditions for firefighter entry
- Fire beyond control of firefighting equipment or initial response unit
- Impact limited to immediate vicinity
Industrial fire pre-planning will provide many of the details required to assist in a firefighting scenario, as well as provide the tools to determine the potential for a building collapse. Building classification, construction, incident duration, occupancy, fire location, and size of the incident are factors to consider in determining response tactics. However, the incident commander must continually re-evaluate the scenario and adjust the response as necessary. If a structural collapse is evident, responders and witnesses may observe the following;
- Bulges in walls
- Interior or exterior wall cracks
- Audible sounds of structural movement
- Water flowing through exterior walls
- Water run-off is less than amount being pumped into building
- Truss construction with direct fire involvement for longer than 5-10 minutes
Fire pre-plans provide key information necessary to improve the potential for a successful response, which may ultimately save lives and reduce property damage. The more specific information responders can obtain prior to an incident, the better equipped they are to respond with the most effective firefighting tactics within their capabilities.
For an understanding of the necessary elements in creating an effective fire pre plan, download our Fire Pre Planning Guide.