HazMat training in chemical complexes
Published: 01 January, 2007
The chance to extinguish conflagrations on a refinery replica with live fires are few and far between for many firefighters. However, the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), a member of The Texas A&M University System, recently turned one of its fire training props into the most in-depth chemical complex emergency replication scenes available today.
Situated at TEEX’s Brayton Fire Training Field in College Station, Texas, the chemical complex sits amid 21 other training giants in the fire industry. Brayton Field is the largest fueled, live-fire training facility in the world, with TEEX training more than 80,000 emergency responders around the globe annually.
Making the simulators work
In 2006 John Coppernoll, along with TEEX Project Coordinator Mark Jackson and TEEX Program Manager Robert Moore, developed a new chemical complex training prop to replace an earlier model. Designed with the industrial HazMat technician in mind, the chemical complex prop features multiple leak sources on the vessel, piping, and pumps. A secondary retention wall and drain replicates those found in most industrial settings. The latest in pneumatic and magnetic technology is provided to teams during hands-on training exercises.
The new multi-level structure currently contains more than 5,200 running feet of pipe and a total of 73 valves that simulates a chemical operations fire for learning the techniques and coordination necessary when using more than one type of extinguishing agent simultaneously on chemical structure fires.
“We developed a training prop that may be customised easily to meet clients’ various needs,” Jackson said. “Multiple hose lines are required, using water and foam for fire control, fuel valve isolation and personnel protection.”
Apart from the chemical complex, specific HazMat training facilities at TEEX also include storage warehouses, rail car derailments, highway transportation containers, industrial props and pipeline crossings.
Onsite are features designed to simulate rail car derailments, damaged cars, overturned highway transportation containers, drilling and transfer operations, and advanced grounding and bonding techniques. Students receive hands-on experience with various types of equipment and techniques.
One of the officials who conducted a site visit to TEEX last year Lt. Victor Lassalle, State Coordinator of Homeland Security for the Puerto Rico Fire Department, gave the site the thumbs-up after his HazMat personnel had trained there.
“We liked the facilities there. We don’t have anything like it, and we thought it would be a great experience for our firefighters. Also, the HazMat course offerings were good, and we knew about the good reputation of the Texas A&M University System,” Lassalle comments.
“Every day, we are closer to contact with hazardous materials than we realise,” comments Al Bresley, a TEEX course instructor. HazMat training is a system for responding to chemical, biological and radiological spills or leaks and containing them. The teams also can medically help people who may have been affected by loose chemicals, he says.
HazMat teams are often called to work at the scene of traffic accidents, gas leaks, train derailments, sinking ships or when there is any kind of unmarked barrel with a suspicious unrecognisable substance in it. “This specific training is not traditional hazmat training. This requires HazMat, EMS, fire and maintenance skills,” he comments.
The HazMat program trains students to deal with problems both defensively and offensively. In a defensive response, one is taught to control the spread of a product from a distance. “You can’t touch it because it might hurt you,” Bresley says. “You can stop it from spreading by using traditional methods, like building dams.”
However, in an offensive response, the objective is to keep the product inside its container, he comments. In such cases, a HazMat team can physically go in and patch holes or leaks to insure that the product remains confined.
Bud Force, Class of 2003 and a TEEX communications specialist, said the program trains people in all procedures and equipment, including HazMat suits.
“We have Levels A through D in hazardous material suits, with A being the most protective,” Force says. “In a Level A suit, you must be wearing a self contained breathing apparatus, and its function is to keep out any undesirable chemicals.”
A person wearing everyday clothes is said to be wearing Level D, and at the training facility, the students wear Level B suits, he says.
After an experience at a chemical spill or hazmat site, a HazMat suit has to be washed off before the person can get out because they don’t want to risk being contaminated by chemicals on the outside of a suit - the proper way to decontaminate is just one of the important elements taught here.
What kinds of missions are undertaken?
Firefighters must advance toward the Chemical Complex training prop and find the ignition sources. As a team advances in this type of scenario, the fire must be suppressed while a firefighter actually shuts the valves off, terminating the fire’s source.
There are 14 leak locations and 28 fuel lines from valve stations, coupled with 20 gate valves and 33 control valves. To make the training even more realistic, numerous fake pumps were installed to provide more obstacles.
“The former prop had a concrete sump that held a large amount of fuel inside an open pit. This feature only added to the continual destruction of the former project. Now, we’ve added a grating-covered trench that will hold fire, which more accurately represents real world conditions found in a chemical processing plant locations. The firefighters have to address that before advancing to higher floors on the prop,” Coppernoll said.
“We’ve also installed whistles on the propane lines. When the gas begins to flow through the lines, the whistles scream; this has an intense psychological effect on the firefighters.”