BY ERIC G. BACHMAN
The goal of preplanning is not ONLY TO IDENTIFY tangible aspects of a target hazard (e.g., construction elements, utilities, and protection features) but also to determine what obstacles, limitations, and deficiencies (OLDs) may exist in your emergency response abilities. When you identify an OLD, you can (1) do nothing, ignore it, and hope that a critical incident will never occur that will expose it; (2) transfer responsibility for the OLD to another person/organization equipped to manage it; or (3) develop a resource to reduce or eliminate your OLDs.
Hopefully, no fire service manager would intentionally ignore and do nothing about an identified OLD, but such people are out there. When a situation arises that exposes an OLD, such persons offer excuses such as lack of funding, staffing, or time or shift blame to someone else, such as a municipal official, which only creates tension among all involved and does not resolve the fundamental problem for the next incident.
Transferring responsibility for an OLD to another better-equipped person/organization is acceptable; however, this must be discussed, agreed to, and coordinated with the concerned parties prior to an incident. When a critical incident occurs, you cannot just transfer your responsibility for it to such persons/agencies without their prior knowledge.
Developing internal or local resources to address OLDs is another way to overcome them. This could involve improving or supplementing existing equipment and skills. Depending on the situation, this may be relatively inexpensive or extremely costly and time consuming and may create a Pandora’s box of additional issues to further complicate these mitigation efforts (e.g., storing additional equipment, obtaining/training additional staffing, and so forth).
Although there may be valid reasons that make a fire department unable or not motivated to overcome its OLDs, it must still try to do so. “Necessity is the mother of invention” is as true in the fire service as it is elsewhere; an identified need must be met and obstacles to it surmounted by whatever means necessary. After all, human lives are at stake.
No matter what your department’s configuration (career/volunteer/combination) or response area (urban/suburban/rural), it must form and maintain relationships with other emergency service organizations, private sector organizations (PSOs), and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Being able to work with these entities will have immeasurable benefits and rewards.
If your department cannot develop and support a certain resource alone, it should reach out to neighboring and regional departments, PSOs, and NGOs, to ascertain if they have similar resource needs. Although one fire department alone may have limited resources, several departments and public/private organizations can combine to create a tremendous asset.
In most emergency service organizations, career and volunteer, our ranks are thinning, and we must do more with less. It is important now more than ever to know our capabilities and those of our neighbors and work toward building stronger and more sustainable resources.
CREATING A COUNTY FOAM RESOURCE
In the early 1980s, a Lebanon County (PA) women’s organization wanted to sponsor a community improvement project. It approached the county fire chiefs’ association, which suggested developing a foam bank for firefighters across the county to use for large-scale emergencies. Not knowing where to start, the club contacted William “Smokey” Bair, a Lancaster County resident, Pennsylvania State Fire Academy instructor, and chief of a large industrial fire department. He had extensive knowledge of foam agents and applications. Ultimately, this project was able to supply each of five Lebanon County fire companies with 200 gallons of foam concentrate and 250- and 95-gpm eductor/nozzle units.
Inspired by the above example, Lancaster County surveyed all 87 independent county fire companies and industrial facilities to determine their foam inventories and capabilities. Eighty-six of the companies were all-volunteer; the survey revealed that two industrial facilities and four fire companies possessed foam concentrate inventories of more than 200 gallons each.
Lancaster County, located 60 miles west of Philadelphia in south central Pennsylvania, borders the Maryland counties of Cecil and Harford, covers more than 949 square miles, and has almost 500,000 residents. It includes the city of Lancaster with 50,000 residents, growing suburbs, and sparsely populated rural areas. Known for its agricultural industry and its Amish population, the county also hosts many hazardous facilities and well-traveled highways, including the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Statewide, Lancaster County ranks third in the number of facilities using extremely hazardous substances; more than 300 facilities annually report using hazardous materials, and the local agricultural industry also has numerous associated hazards.
In January 1992, the agencies possessing foam resources met to discuss the qualities of the available foam, application tools, and the creation of a regional foam cooperative. Although the two industrial facilities opted out of the resource cooperative because of liability issues, one career and three volunteer departments committed to developing what would become the Lancaster County Foam Task Force (LCFTF).
Since that time, one volunteer department has withdrawn from the LCFTC, and the county haz mat team has joined it. Although the LCFTF has flourished, it has not been easy. Primarily, the task force relies on each fire company to use its own financial resources to maintain specific equipment and foam inventories. However, through some of the established U.S. Department of Homeland Security funding programs, this all-hazards task force has obtained some additional financial support.
Foam Coordinator Bair directs the task force, which is comprised of equipment and personnel from Neffsville Community Fire Company; Lafayette Fire Company; and Haz Mat 2, the county hazardous materials team, These all-volunteer organizations are financially supported by fund-drive mailings and grants; none are sustained by a fire tax. The fourth member, the Lancaster Bureau of Fire, is the only career department in the county.
Neffsville Community Fire Company (NCFC). The NCFC, a charter member of the task force, is located five miles north of Lancaster and protects the Lancaster Airport. Its designated foam unit, Tanker 27, is a pumper-tanker with a 2,500-gallon water tank, a 300-gallon foam tank, and a 1,500-gpm pump with a proportioning system (photo 1) that enables around-the-pump proportioning and allows the flowing of foam from any discharge. It also carries other foam appliances (photo 2). The predecessor tanker was initially designed to respond to aircraft emergencies and support suppression operations in some of the department’s rural settings. When the company was designing the current tanker, it incorporated LCFTF considerations to improve its capabilities and reinforce its commitment to the organization.
Photos by author.
Lafayette Fire Company (LFC). Also a charter member of the FTF, LFC maintains a large foam inventory because of a large industrial park located in its response area and the various commodities that are transported on U.S. Route 30, which bisects the heart of its district, located east of Lancaster. The LFC’s foam contingent includes Engine 63-3, a 2003 pumper with a 2,250-gpm pump, a 500-gallon water tank, and a foam-proportioning system. It also carries 80 gallons of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), 50 gallons of high-expansion foam, and supporting foam appliances. It also serves as a suppression engine company and a foam support unit.
Engine 63-2 is a 1978 pumper that originally was the company’s primary fire attack vehicle. When the company replaced a 1969 foam apparatus, Engine 63-2 was refurbished and outfitted as a foam unit. It now features a 1,500-gpm pump, a 500-gallon water tank, a 350-gpm foam master stream appliance, and assorted other foam appliances. It carries 40 gallons of AFFF in a tank and 370 additional gallons in five-gallon pails (photos 3, 4).
Haz Mat 2 Environmental Fire Rescue Company (HM 2). Haz Mat 2 (HM 2) is a Pennsylvania-certified hazardous materials response team contracted by Lancaster County to respond within the county boundaries. Although HM 2 is an independent volunteer organization, it financially supports team operations through grants, response cost recovery, and some county funding. HM 2 joined the foam task force in the late 1990s because it had air-monitoring capabilities, material identification equipment, and a foam inventory.
On foam deployments, HM 2 primarily responds with HM 29-3. The apparatus is a 1974 pumper that the team also uses for decontamination operations. This vehicle, previously owned and operated by an industrial fire brigade, was donated along with other equipment to area organizations when the industrial facility eliminated its fire brigade. This unit maintains a 250-gallon bulk tank of AFFF and more in 20 five-gallon pails and carries 50-pound buckets of extinguishing agent for flammable metals. It also carries an assortment of foam eductors and appliances.
Lancaster Bureau of Fire (LBF). The only career department in the county, LBF has three stations that operate with three engines, two reserve engines, and two truck companies. Supported by taxes, the LBF’s Engine 64-2, a 1989 pumper, is a part of the LCFTF. Its primary job is firefighting; however, when a foam deployment is requested, Engine 64-2 responds with its three on-duty personnel. Equipped with a 1,500-gpm pump and a 500-gallon water tank, it also carries an assortment of foam appliances.
HOMELAND SECURITY FUNDS
As a result of 9/11, additional funding sources for improved preparedness levels have become available. Lancaster County is a part of the state’s South Central Terrorism Task Force (SCTF), comprised of eight counties tasked with preparing various disciplines to respond not only to terrorism events but also to all-hazard situations. Federal funds are allocated to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), which distributes funds to the nine-state terrorism task forces. The SCTF, based on needs and justification criteria, establishes fund distribution for equipment, training, and exercises throughout the region.
In 2005, the LCFTF, through the SCTF, requested and received funds to support the purchase of trailers to carry additional foam concentrate and supporting appliances. Later that year, three foam trailers were equipped and placed in service. The SCTF has also agreed to assist the LCFTF in funding a pumper dedicated for task force responses.
Foam trailers. The trailers are housed at NCFC, LFC and LBF. Although the base trailer design is the same for all three trailers, layout, equipment, and foam concentrate inventories vary. The NCFC trailer features a prepiped 1,250-gpm automatic water nozzle, 500- and 350-gpm foam nozzles, and a 1,000-gpm automatic water nozzle. Additionally, it carries 200 feet of three-inch hose and an assortment of hose adapters, spanner wrenches, and foam eductors (photos 5, 6).
The LFC trailer is equipped with a 1,250-gpm monitor with 500-gpm foam nozzle, 400 feet of 1 3/4-inch hose, 300 feet of three-inch hose, a high-expansion foam generator, and two mixing tubs. It carries 510 gallons of AFFF in six 55-gallon drums and 36 five-gallon pails and 50 gallons of high-expansion foam in 10 five-gallon pails.
The LBF trailer is equipped with a 1,250-gpm monitor with 500-gpm foam nozzle and carries application and support equipment similar to that in the other trailers. It carries 470 gallons of AFFF concentrate in six 55-gallon drums and 28 five-gallon pails.
Each organization provides a vehicle to tow its trailer. When NCFC replaced its utility vehicle, it designed a new unit Squad 27 (photo 7) to pull the trailer and serve as a support unit to the foam task force. LFC uses its 1990 squad to tow its trailer; LBF uses a similar type vehicle.
Collectively, the LCFTF brings with it 2,900 gallons of foam concentrate and all the hardware needed to initiate foam application.
Additional funding and equipment. Although the fire departments themselves still absorb most of the costs associated with membership in the LCFTF, some financial burdens have been alleviated. Through U.S. Department of Homeland Security funds, a tremendous regional asset has been realized. The LCFTF is also pursuing financial contributions and equipment commitments from interest groups, PSOs, and NGOs that may require the foam services. Some of the appliances on the foam trailers have been acquired through funds or direct purchase by local business, industry, and professional groups.
ORGANIZATION AND TRAINING
A coordinator oversees the LCFTF’s four member organizations, assisted by at least two representatives from each member; they are the officers of the LCFTF. The task force has formal standard operating procedures and tiered qualification levels from Level 1, equivalent to an in-house orientation, to Level 5, an officer, who has undergone extensive training including foam technician certification and completion of Texas A&M’s Foam Program.
Sixteen members among the four organizations have completed the Texas A&M program; 45 have completed a foam firefighting technician program. Two members are National Foam-certified foam instructors, and three are Pennsylvania State Fire Academy instructors. As with equipment, each organization absorbs the cost of training: Member organizations have dedicated much funding to support the training requirements.
The LCFTF has performed comprehensive preplans for target hazards in the county. Obtaining materials on tank specifications for tank farms in the county (photo 8), the LCFTF has preplanned foam application rates, water supply requirements, and apparatus placement for fixed-facility incidents. It has also preplanned minimum application rates and water supply requirements for hydrocarbon and polar solvent incidents involving rail tank cars and over-the-road trucks, including a preplanned procedure for foam application through a ladder pipe. Also considered in these preplans is the position of the involved trailer or tank car, whether it is upright or on its side.
In addition to response services, the LCFTF also trains local fire companies to promote preplanning and response needs and has consulted with many local industry representatives to develop relationships for improved mutual response.
Outside support. The LCFTF has surveyed border counties for foam inventories for contingencies and found varying degrees of preparedness. Foam resources from neighboring counties have been included in training and other preparedness activities. The task force has identified foam resources in Lebanon, Berks, York, and Chester counties in Pennsylvania and has fostered relationships with the involved agencies.
Another LCFTC goal is to identify and establish a relationship with out-of-state emergency services and foam resources in the Maryland counties that border Lancaster County. This is extremely important, because incidents do not magically stop at a county or state line. Preincident cooperation and coordination are essential.
Activation. To activate the LCFTF, an incident commander sends a request to the county communications center to dispatch all member organizations, which assemble at a predetermined site in proximity to the incident’s location. From there, the units respond as a group, meet with the incident commander, and meld into the host agency’s incident command system. LCFTF officers emphasize that the group is intended to support on-scene operations, not to take them over.
The task force has responded to several incidents over the years, including a fire involving a tanker truck. The tank had ruptured, spilling 8,000 gallons of gasoline, which caught fire (“Gasoline Tanker Fire Threatens Townhouses,” Fire Engineering, September 2001). It has responded to incidents involving a fire in refuse trailers at a recycling center, tire dump fires, and a leaking pentane tank car.
LCFTF also has been placed on standby for several in- and out-of-county incidents over the years. In January 2006, it was dispatched to assist at a large industrial building fire in York County. The facility, specializing in adhesives, contained many hazardous materials. Foam suppression was necessary, but local resources were limited, so the LCFTF was summoned. The entire LCFTF fleet responded and applied foam at the scene for nearly five hours.
This incident proved the value of this cooperative resource as well as reinforced the importance of consistent and focused training and preparation for infrequent, but high-potential incidents.
Identifying your OLDs is important. A critical question regarding an OLD is, What are you going to do about it? Avoiding it is not an option; it must be addressed, regardless of whether you transfer it in a coordinated fashion or you try to overcome it through resource acquisition and development. It will not be an easy road-you will encounter obstacles. However, the fruits of your labor will quickly be realized when that certain incident you dread occurs and you meet the challenge, overcome it, and bring it to a successful conclusion.
Look outside the box when identifying and developing resources. No one agency can do it all; we must improve our preplanning through cooperative ventures.
Author’s note: For more information on the Lancaster County Foam Task Force, contact William Bair at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ERIC G. BACHMAN, a 24-year veteran of the fire service, is a volunteer firefighter with the West Hempfield (PA) Fire and Rescue Company and served as chief of the Eden Volunteer Fire/Rescue Department in Lancaster County. He is the hazardous materials administrator for the County of Lancaster Emergency Management Agency and serves on the Local Emergency Planning Committee of Lancaster County. He is registered with the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications as a fire officer IV, fire instructor II, hazardous materials technician, and hazardous materials incident commander. He has an associate’s degree in fire science and has earned professional certification in emergency management through the state of Pennsylvania.