Lessons Learned from the Kleen Energy Explosion Shared at FDIC 2011

Six people died and more than 30 were injured on February 7, 2010, in an explosion at the Kleen Energy plant in Middletown, Connecticut. At FDIC 2011, Edward Badamo, chief of the South Fire District (CT) and incident commander at this large scale response, presented an in-depth classroom on the various hazards his firefighters encountered at the scene and the challenges they overcame. In light of the tragic fire incident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in the wake of the terrible earthquake and tsunami in that country and the fact that nearly 150 natural gas-powered generating facilities are slated to be built in the United States in the next 15 years, this classroom provided vital information for fire departments of all sizes in responding to large-scale incidents.

Badamo’s presentation provided gripping photos of the scene, demonstrating the tremendous blast force of the explosion and damage from debris. He discussed the numerous hazards firefighters had to deal with: search problems due to downed and damaged steel; a downed power line impeding fire attack; and live overhead high-voltage electrical wires, among many.

Badamo described facets of the response, including how he used the incident management team to order a no-fly zone in the area, and how ordering critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) sessions in the early stages of the incident (rather than post-incident) paid off for first responders who were exposed to the extreme trauma suffered by victims of the blast.

He talked about how the plant had no accountability system for its workers. It took one and half days to account for everybody and how plant worker union foot-dragging over possible litigation prolonged the process. He also talked about some of the Connecticut Urban Search & Rescue (USAR) team’s difficulties, which included calling in the Massachusetts USAR team for additional dogs.

Firefighters experienced site access and water supply difficulties, and Badamo acknowledged that, in the early stages of the incident, he failed to set up a formal triage for a number of victims, who were transported to a secondary site for evaluation.

Among the various lessons learned, Badamo stressed considering the financial aspects of large-scale incidents. “Go to a structure fire, and no one is considering the financial aspects,” said Badamo. “But at large-scale incidents, there are many costs–meals fore firefighters, additional support, and so on. Someone has to be tracking finance, whether it’s a firefighter or some other designated person.”

Firefighters operated at the Kleen Energy explosion site for 28 days, including conducting the investigation of the incident. This was prolonged by, among other things, visits by federal, state, and local politicians who insisted on visiting the scene.

Badamo joked that, before the Kleen Energy blast, certain NIMS classes nearly put him to sleep, but ultimately all that incident management training paid off when confronted with a incident of that magnitude.

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