Handled with care

Published:  02 April, 2009

Oursourcing emergency response operations can be an easy and cost-effective way of protecting a facility to the highest possible standards. Ann-Marie Knegt talked to two industry experts who live and breathe industrial fire safety and security.

High-risk facilities are facing global trends of industry consolidation, growing public safety concerns, and  industry-wide downsizing. Depending on how an organisation is set up, there might not be a professional fire department, as yet. In such situations it may be wise to outsource emergency response operations. At the Industrial Fire Safety and Security Expo held from Feb 9-8 in Houston Texas, IFJ met Chief Manuel Gonzales, from Industrial Emergency Services LLC (IESLLC).

IESLLC is based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and prides itself in delivering response services that are tailored to an organisation’s exact needs. “We deliver a full emergency response package for high-risk facilities, and the difference between us and others is that our personnel is strictly trained in industrial firefighting operations. Some of our people might have a municipal background, but our instructor pool is very highly qualified as industrial firefighters go, and this is reflected in the training of our new recruits,” he explained.

As well as delivering direct emergency response services, IESLLC sets up inspections and training in order to keep facilities compliant with NFPA and OSHA standards. The company also provides training and re-training for the emergency response teams (ERTs) based on facilities, based on their exact requirements, with a reduction in use of full time staff. Chief Gonzales explains, for instance, that the facility where he currently works used to have 156 emergency response team (ERT) members. However, he appointed two full time firefighters (a firefighter and a captain), and with that expertise he was able to reduce the ERT down to 50 people, significantly reducing costs for the site and making the team more efficient. “Employees in Industry have to carry out their jobs besides having to be a member of the ERT. Some would rather not be there. It is really not their responsibility to be experts at emergency response, as well as carrying out their normal line of work. This is where we come in. We received a high-level of dedicated training for this exact purpose.”
In addition to emergency response capabilities, IESLLC has certified fire protection specialists that can carry out air monitoring and advise on occupational health issues. However, the company does not limit itself to one or two particular areas. “If a client requests another service, we just add this to our repertoire at no extra cost. This way of working pretty much eliminates having third party vendors coming to test your facility and your equipment.”
The company also provides incident response units, and high-risk installations can subscribe to their services. Mutual aid agreements provide parish response services where members do not have to pay a premium for IES to turn up with an incident response team when a large incident occurs. Member companies include Shell, Dupont, Williams, Chevron and Mosaic. “It is a win-win situation for everyone. In turn when we face a huge emergency we get help from all the ERT members of the different companies,” commented Gonzales.

At an incident an assessment is quickly made prior to response. According to the Chief it is bad strategy to send the whole team to an incident without any prior knowledge. “We will send an assessment team in so we can figure out what is happening. And as soon as we can get a clear operational game plan, we can do our secondary evaluation and continue with the incident action plan for a safe and effective mitigation of the emergency.”
Chief Gonzales points out another important issue in emergency response, and that is complacency during evacuation drills, where people tend to ignore emergency alarms. “We never do emergency drills at the same time. Many facilities ring their alarm every week at the same time. We are trying to get away from that. If you do that, people get complacent and laid back, and nobody will respond or account for themselves. So we carry our tests out at different times,” he concluded.

Another emergency response company present at the Industrial Fire Safety and Security Expo was the Refinery Terminal Firefighting Company (RTFC), based in Corpus Christi, Texas. Captain and Training Co-ordinator David Herr, explained that the RTFC has stringent recruitment and training standards for rookies. In-plant firefighters are highly trained on all aspects of emergency response, including medical, HazMat, rescue or any other discipline. “Our professionalism is our key asset, and therefore we demand the best from our firefighters. They have to be disciplined, highly trained professionals at all time. Their recruitment process starts with comprehensive interviews, physical tests, and written tests. Once people are accepted they have to go through 20 weeks of strenuous training, for six days a week, about 10 to 12 hours a day. We are a paramilitary organisation where the actions of one can affect the others in the team.”

The latest major incident Captain Herr and his team responded to was a large fire in a storage tank filled with crude oil, about a year and a half ago. It took the team 24-hours to fully extinguish this fire. The logistics involved were tremendous, remembered Captain Herr. “Not only did we have a large tank on fire, but the weather was terrible. Nine inches of rain poured down in the timeframe of three hours. So, not only were we fighting the challenge of the fire, but we were combatting Mother Nature herself, in the middle of the night during a lightning storm. We really had to be thinking on our feet, and although we encountered many things that we were trained for, we also met many new challenges, being that the bund was on fire. There was some impinchment on a pipe rack which caused a secondary blaze. However, in the end we were able to recover quickly and get control over the fire.”

  • Operation Florian

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