Ready for an inferno with the Hellbeaters

Published:  01 January, 2009

Manufactured by Dutch company Fischcon, the units also required the rolling out of 1,500 metre long eight-inch hoses – all of the eight from a trailer unit. No small task for the men and women of the Unified Industrial/Harbour Fire Department (Gezamelijke Brandweer/ UFD) Rotterdam.

On a cold day in October around 50 delegates of a LASTFIRE conference came to a windswept storage tank facility owned by Shell in Rotterdam, Europort, to see the UFD’s latest gadgets in action.

The Hellbeaters are two large units which contain large capacity pumps and monitors, each with a capacity of 37,500 litres per minute at 14 bar. The name could not be more suitable, because an inferno in a storage tank with a capacity of nearly 200,000 m3 is probably the closest to hell that any firefighter will get to.

Among the people watching the Hellbeaters in action was the Director of the Unified Fire Department, Ben Janssen. He explained that the UFD in Rotterdam is organised unlike any other industrial area. “We try to educate people about how we work, as well as making them aware that we are a very unique organisation. In addition to the oil and chemical companies – based in the Rotterdam Europort – the Government is also involved in the Unified Fire Department (GB). This does not happen anywhere else in the world. Even in Houston, where they do have a unified fire service, the US Government is not involved. Our main aim today is to show people that it is possible to combine public and private interests in one organisation.”

All parties involved in the consortium share the financing of the Unified Fire Department, and the Government carries 33 per cent of costs while the commercial sector carries 66 per cent.

So, why did the UFD acquire the Hellbeaters?

For years the UFD suspected that it did not have enough capacity to fight a large tank fire, and the Dutch Government had never specified a requirements for it either. The UFD carried out an analysis of its capability and concluded prior to 2002, that it could only extinguish a tank fire 45 metres wide. Consequently, a heated discussion broke out within the department. Was this a responsible way of handling the possibility of a large tank fire? Should the UFD choose intervention or a controlled burn-out?

Based on justifications such as public image, environment and cost, plus lengthy discussions with Rotterdam Council, the decision to buy large capacity monitors was made. “This meant that we could release the oil and chemical companies (involved in the consortium) from their obligation of keeping large capacity monitors on their own facilities. Now, we could collectively finance and acquire this provision. At the same time the commercial sector did not have to buy their own monitors, coupling and foam water supply equipment, and we could all spread the costs by creating a collective pool that could be deployed to any facility.”

The facilities that were based in Rotterdam Europort were eager to co-operate, but the Environment Agency (Milieudienst) that grants the environmental permits had to first approve the scheme. This did not turn out to be an issue, and by becoming a member, it was arranged that the facilities could buy their environmental licence by joining the IVP (Integral Safety Pool).

In order to find a solution that suited their requirements, the UFD had to determine what its capabilities should be. A large capacity monitor was required that could handle a fire in a tank full of crude oil measuring 89 metres wide and 22 metres high. For polar liquids in floating roof tanks (the largest measuring 65 metres wide and 30 metres height) they needed something that was compliant with NFPA 11 (standard for low, medium and high expansion foam). In addition, this large capacity monitor had to be capable of delivering 75 m3 of foam mix per minute for a full hour.

The UFD wrote out a specification stating that the full system had to be operational within four hours. It also had to be possible to connect the system to the ships of the Port Authortity (the UFD uses water from the harbour).

The specification was then put out to tender and subsequently several proposals were received and scored. According to Janssen, the proposal by Fischcon ticked all the boxes and scored highest on the relation between cost and performance. He added that the Hellbeaters are – technically – pumps that increase the water pressure so it can easily reach the monitor. “Essentially it is a combination of a pump and a large capacity monitor. Fischcon is known for its pumps, and it researched the combination between pump and monitor really well. It also researched the companies that could deliver the high capacity hoses, because the hoses had to be able to be rolled out over 1,500 metres. These eight-inch hoses are nearly the largest size available. There are larger (12 inch), but the larger size would not have left enough room for manoeuvring eight of these at the same time on the small roads around our bunds.”

The UFD required proven technology and Fischcon came with excellent references. The company proved that the hose concept was easy to execute. And the same went for Dr Stahmer, which could prove that its new Moussol FF3/3 firefighting foam was extremely effective for large tank fires, and showed the UFD a range a of test results on how the foam performed on different materials as well as in conjunction with the brackish water in Rotterdam’s harbour.

Booster unit

Janssen adds that the UFD has also just bought a large booster unit for the system, which enables the department to extend the hoses by another 400 metres. “The Rotterdam Port Authority has extended one of the facilitiy’s quays by 400 metres, and therefore we could not reach all the tanks. This booster pump is placed on a trailer and has a capacity of 80 m3 per minute. Placed between the boats and the Hellbeaters it delivers at 14 bar.

“Fischcon also won this contract because it offered the best interoperability between systems that we could establish. We really needed this booster unit because otherwise the pressure would have been too low to reach the Hellbeater.”

At the time of the exercise the Hellbeaters had not seen any action. However, several days later, a floating roof tank containing naphtha collapsed at the Vopak Terminal and the Hellbeaters were set up as a precautionary measure. The fire service covered the tanks in foam to avoid evaporation and ignition should any naphta escape. Luckily they were able to restore the situation to safety without any further escalation.

  • Operation Florian

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