When we are called to a fire in a residential structure, we generally will ask first if everyone is out. We may then ask where the fire is if it isn’t obvious. After the resident shares this basic information with us, we then take over and do what we are trained to do to extinguish the fire.
Industrial fires are much different. In some cases, the industry may have individuals trained as a fire brigade that we will assist in the fireground activities. In the cases I have dealt with, there has not been a fire brigade, but we worked hand in hand with the industrial representatives to coordinate the emergency response. Industries may have many more people to account for. They should have an emergency plan that assists them in doing this quickly.
After all employees have been accounted for you may still need some of them to assist in shutting down equipment. They may be vital in providing ventilation. You may need to coordinate with an operator of an automated supervisory control system to move materials, open valves, control fans, control steam, etc. Nobody knows the facility as well as those that work there.
We had a recent call involving a very large feed facility. The fire was apparently contained to large material handling/processing device. The problem was determining if it had extended to other parts of the facility. The priority was to stop the fire and then determine the extension. To stop the fire, we needed to confirm the material (fuel) was no longer being fed to the device. We then need to be certain the burning material (fuel) was not being sent to another location.
On top of this, we needed to stop the fans that were blowing into the device. We could have shut the power off but was this the best option? Utilizing the employees led to a much safer plan that resulted in less damage to the facility and a safer atmosphere for our firefighters.
Coordinating with the employees works best if you can do this on a day that there is no fire. I encourage you to work with your local industry to develop this relationship. You may consider doing a drill with them.
Upon completion, the department should be able to…
• Identify high risk facilities in your territory.
• Designate a fire department member to contact the facility to develop a working relationship.
• Schedule a tour for your department.
• Schedule a drill for your department jointly with the facility.
Scott Meinecke is a member of the Sheldon Volunteer Fire Department, Director of Safety for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, and field staff for the Fire Service Training Bureau. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org