Acetylene Tanks Explode
Fire Protection Specialist Santa Fe Springs, Calif., Fire Dept.
Exploding acetylene tanks and the resultant shrapnel threatened the lives of fire fighters attacking a fire at American Cryogenics, Inc., in Santa Fe Springs, Calif. Steel hurled as far as 900 feet by the blast? ranged in size from split-open entire tanks weighing 400 pounds to very small pieces. The rapid spread of the fire further intensified the problem faced by the Santa Fe Springs Fire Department.
Chief B. J. Thompson was not far from the acetylene generating plant when the fire call was received from American Cryogenics at 1:05 a.m. last July 1. He was monitoring the radio calls because of the absence of the regularly assigned battalion chief and heard the immediate transmission sending Engine 302 to the fire only a short distance from its station. At 1:06 a.m., Engine 301, Aerial 315 and Rescue 311 were dispatched, followed by Engine 303 at 1:10 a.m.
As the chief responded, he saw flames erupting from the plant at 8832 Dice Road and he radioed for Plan 2 to be put into effect. Under mutual aid agreements with Area E cities, Plan 2 provides assistance from surrounding communities and in this case brought two engine companies from Downey and one from Whittier to the fireground. In addition, one engine company from South Gate and another from Montebello responded and stood by at the Santa Fe Springs headquarters station. Additional manpower was provided by the recall of Santa Fe Springs off-duty men and two companies from the Los Angeles County Fire Department under the command of Battalion Chief Jack Jensen.
When first-in Engine 302 arrived, flames were enveloping the loading platform, where acetylene tanks were charged. Captain Henry Angus and his crew, Engineer Keith Brock and Fireman Paul Bein, laid three 2V4-inch lines, and they were preparing to get water on the fire when acetylene tanks began to explode. Flying shrapnel severed the line manned by Angus, but the other two lines were kept in operation in a successful effort to keep the fire from spreading to a nearby hydrogen generator, banks of liquid hydrogen cylinders and three liquid hydrogen semi-tankers, the nearest of which was parked but 5 feet from the fire area.
As the other companies arrived, they were assigned on the south side of the plant by the chief and on the north side by Captain Ed Whitt of Engine 301.
Deluge sets were put in service by Downey Engine 4 and Santa Fe Springs Engine 302 and 303. The men stretched 6,900 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose to supply the deluge sets and 900 feet of 1 1/2-inch hose for hand lines.
The fire started as a workman, Bernard Collachia, was filling acetylene tanks in the bottling area, when a full tank he was disconnecting erupted in flame. Collachia was severely burned about the hands and arms and ran to the front of the plant to give the alarm.
Burned closing valves
Larry Aumock, assistant plant manager, shut off some butane tank valves under the protection of hose streams provided by fire fighters, preventing a further problem. Then he heroically entered the area of the hydrogen generator and liquid hydrogen banks and turned off valves that allowed large tankers of liquid hydrogen to be moved from the area, preventing an almost certain disaster. Aumock’s hands were slightly burned during this action.
As the fire was brought under control, after about 2 1/2 hours, some of the companies were released to return to their cities. Santa Fe Springs firemen from Stations 1 and 2 stood by until final extinguishment.
The fire was investigated by fire protection specialists of the Santa Fe Springs Fire Department and their conclusion is that a freak spark of static electricity discharged across the gap between the filling line and the tank being removed. They believe that an apparently faulty valve caused a sudden rush of gas, creating the charge.
The loss to the plant and acetylene bottles, as well as other equipment, has been placed in excess of $300,000.