Big Streams at Gasoline Fire Buy Time to Mount Foam Attack
A gasoline fire in a bulk oil distribution plant in Fairfax County, Va., required immediate protection of exposures with master streams and hand lines while a foam attack was being organized. The Fairfax County Emergency Operations Center at 2:05 a.m. last July 25 dispatched Engine Companies 22, 19 and 5 to the Exxon bulk oil compound for a reported explosion and fire. The compound, adjacent to Interstate 95 in central Fairfax County, also contains facilities of two other oil companies.
As Engine 22 responded from quarters, a large fireball became visible and a second alarm was ordered, including a special call for military foam units from the United States Army Engineering Headquarters, Fort Belvoir, 2 miles east of the fire.
Fire spreads explosively
On arrival, Engine 22 found a fully loaded 7800-gallon gasoline tanker overturned and lodged against a large drive-through wash rack in the Exxon disbursing yard. Both vehicle and building were heavily involved and, before lines could be placed in service, escaping gasoline flowing across the yard ignited two “empty” tankers parked just south of the wash rack. The two vehicles ruptured violently and were totally destroyed.
The immediate problem of the firstin company was one of protecting exposures. On the east, closest to the primary fire area, was a multi-bay loading platform with exposed overhead gravity piping. To the west, more than 20 loaded 3,000-gallon fuel oil trucks were parked for morning deliveries. The northern exposure contained 14 vertical storage tanks, six gasoline and eight fuel oil, the largest of which held 67,000 barrels of gasoline. Administration and maintenance buildings comprised the southern exposure.
Wagon 22 stretched dual 3-inch supply lines into the compound and took a defensive position between the loading platform and the burning tanker and building.
As Company 19 arrived with an attack pumper and combination pumper/tanker, separator pits at the extreme southwestern corner of Exxon’s yard exploded, showering concrete over a wide area and sending another mushrooming fireball into the air. Burning gasoline was entering the underground drainage system near the wash rack and feeding a smaller but intense fire at the pits.
Master streams set up
Wagon 19 was positioned between the pits and the loaded fuel oil trucks while Tanker 19 was located to cut off the flow of surface gasoline on the south and provide necessary support to Wagon 22. At this point, neither company attempted to extinguish the fires but set up master streams, supported by hand lines, to confine the fire and protect exposures while foam units responded.
When the third-due Engine Company 5 arrived, it was directed to stretch additional supply lines. While the company was doing this, Battalion Chiefs Ludlow and Chinn established a command post between the adminis tration building and the loading rack Additional battalion chiefs were as signed flank positions and they con centrated on exposure and confine ment problems until foam units got in tactical attack positions.
Supported by second-alarm companies, Fairfax County’s Foam Unit 3 and both of Fort Belvoir’s Air/Crash foam units began a concentrated attack on the primary fire area approximately 20 minutes after the initial alarm. Master stream operations were shut down and hand lines were used sparingly during the foam attack.
Deluge system operated
At about the same time large quantities of foam were being applied, yard personnel manually activated the deluge sprinkler system protecting the loading platform. To fire fighters around the loading platform, it was a welcome sight, but water run-off into the drainage system compounded the problem at the separator pits. A Fort Belvoir foam unit was repositioned and quickly extinguished the fire in that area. Spot fires around the wash rack were extinguished by portable extinguishers.
The fire was declared under control about 35 minutes after the initial alarm. Damage was estimated at a quarter of a million dollars.
Reconstructing events prior to the explosion, fire investigators determined that the tanker they found wrecked against the wash rack had loaded its compartments and was swinging around a prescribed exit route to the Exxon administration building when it flipped over, ripping open at least one aluminum compartment. The driver was injured and retrieved from the tractor cab by Exxon employees. As he was carried to safety, escaping gasoline ignited explosively.