Drums Explode, Rocket and Spray In Paint Factory Storage Yard

Toronto Sun photo by Cal Millar

Drums Explode, Rocket and Spray In Paint Factory Storage Yard


The use of many master streams controlled a fire in a 5000-barrel outside storage of chemicals and prevented extension of the fire to a paint factory warehouse in Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada.

At approximately 11:40 a.m. last July 15, a waste disposal tanker was siphoning dirty solvents from a holding tank just outside the warehouse, which contained raw materials. Suddenly, the catch at a coupling on the siphoning hose came loose and immediately solvent sprayed all over the driver. He immediately ran into the warehouse, where an employee noticed his problem and ran for a water hose to wash off the solvents.

In the meantime, another plant employee ran outside and saw the solvent running from the siphoning hose and flooding the yard, where there were 5000 45-gallon drums of various chemicals used in making paint stacked on wooden pallets. He immediately turned off the tanker’s pump and proceeded to switch off the tanker’s ignition. It is reported that as soon as this was done, the engine of the tanker backfired and fire erupt ed around the tanker and spread to the center of the storage yard. Another truck pumping latex paint a few yards away escaped the fire when its driver managed to drive it from the yard.

Apparatus dispatched

At 11:41 a.m., the Borough of Etobicoke Fire Department received a telephone alarm, and the caller yelled into the telephone before hanging up, “Fire at the paint factory.” However, the switchboard lit up and it was immediately established that the fire was at the Canadian Pittsburgh Industrial Ltd. paint plant at the northeast corner of Lake Shore Boulevard, West and Brown’s Line. Two pumpers, an aerial, a SCAT (self-contained attack team) wagon and a district chief were dispatched.

Three minutes later, the first-in Pumper 4 arrived at the east side of the storage yard and radioed to Pumper 9 to lay into them for pumping operations. In the following minute, the district chief and Aerial 9 arrived on the scene.

The district chief announced a major fire in the storage yard near the raw materials warehouse. After a quick survey, he called for a second alarm, which brought two more pumpers, an aerial, a SCAT wagon and the deputy chief (the chief was on vacation).

The district chief then dispatched Aerial 9 to the north side of the plant and ordered the crew to set up a water tower operation to protect the roof of the warehouse and the 50,000-gallon tanks of resin nearby.

Just before the arrival of the deputy chief, the district chief radioed for two more pumpers.

Hydrant stem breaks

While Pumper 9 was hooking up to a hydrant on the north side of Lake Shore Boulevard at the plant entrance, the hydrant spindle broke when it was opened a third of the way. Immediately, Pumper 1 hooked up to a hydrant across the road at 37th Street and Lake Shore Boulevard and pumped to Pumper 9, which in turn relayed water to Pumper 4. As soon as Pumper 4 had water, a deluge set was positioned on the east side of the storage yard. Pumper 4 also supplied two 2 1/2 -inch lines positioned at the southeast and northeast sides of the yard on each side of the deluge set. At this time, 760 gpm were being discharged on the fire.

Ladder pipes and master stream appliances teamed up to confine fire in 5000 barrels of solvents and other chemicals at an outside storage yard and save adjoining paint factory warehouse.

Upon arrival, the deputy chief received a briefing from the district chief, and a command post was established on the east flank of the storage yard.

When the second aerial (No. 3) arrived, it was positioned by the deputy chief outside the 6-foot wire fence on the south side of the storage yard and a water tower was put into operation, discharging 420 gpm. This water tower was supplied by the fourth pumper (No. 8), which was stationed at the hydrant on the southeast corner of 38th Street and Lake Shore Boulevard.

Upon its arrival, Pumper 11 was dispatched to supply Aerial 9 by pumping from a yard hydrant on the property across the railroad tracks on the north side of the Pittsburgh Paint plant, and Pumper 7 was placed at a hydrant on the southeast corner of 39th Street and Lake Shore Boulevard. Pumper 7 supplied a second deluge set on the south side of the storage yard, approximately 200 feet west of the aerial water tower on the south side.

The deputy chief radioed the Works Department to increase the pressure on the 12-inch main on Lake Shore Boulevard. He also radioed for the assistant deputy chief, the gas company and the hydro, and asked for a third aerial.

Command assignments

When the assistant deputy arrived, the operations were set up with a command post on the east flank under the deputy chief, the south flank under the assistant deputy, and the north flank under the district chief.

The first two 2 1/2-inch lines were forced to withdraw because of the extreme heat on the east side of the storage yard, so a deluge set was positioned in their place. Another deluge set (supplied from a yard hydrant between the warehouse and the plant) was stationed on the northeast side of the yard, and the stream was concentrated between the stacked drums and the warehouse. Another 2 1/2-inch line was taken from the yard hydrant into the interior of the warehouse and manned by the crew of the first-in SCAT wagon. This line was used to protect the inside of the warehouse when the windows broke from the radiant heat.

Pumper 11, attempting to supply Aerial 9, had difficulty getting an adequate water supply from the yard hydrant. Immediately, the seventh pumper called in, No. 6, relayed water after hooking up to a hydrant on the west side of Brown’s Line just north of Dover Drive. This gave enough water to Pumper 11 to supply the water tower of Aerial 9, as well as a 2 1/2-inch line which was taken along the railroad tracks to protect the west side of the warehouse.

While the water tower operation was being set up with Aerial 7, a mechanical failure removed this third-in aerial from service.

Apparatus moved

At the height of the fire (approximately 1:30 p.m.), Aerial 3, which was on the south side of the yard, had to be moved because of radiant heat. The water tower was changed to a deluge set operation. At about the same time, Pumper 4, which was at the east side of the storage yard, had to be moved back 100 feet because of the heat and the explosions that were taking place.

Between 1:30 and 2 p.m., the fire was at its peak, and 45-gallon drums of chemicals were blowing 150 to 250 feet into the air. Many landed 700 feet away, mostly in a south and westerly direction. As a safety precaution, several blocks of homes were evacuated.

About 1:45 p.m., two fire fighters suffering from heat prostration were taken to the hospital. They were packed in ice to lower their body temperatures and released six or seven hours later.

As the drums exploded and rocketed upwards, many sprayed chemicals into the thermal column, which then blossomed into huge fire balls over the fire fighters’ heads.

As the seven pumpers, three aerials, two SCAT wagons, one district chief, one assistant deputy and one deputy chief fought this fire, 2860 gpm of water were being showered on to the drums in the storage yard.

Fire under control

At about 2:10 p.m., the water did its job and the fire diminished greatly. At 2:20 p.m., the deputy chief radioed a “strike-out.” However, some apparatus remained on the scene of this $1,225,000 fire for several hours for overhaul operations.

Because this was considered a largeloss fire, the investigation bureau of the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office was called in by the deputy chief.

Among our problems was the lack of hydrants on the north side of the warehouse, paint plant and office because of railroad tracks. There also were no hydrants on the west side of the property because of a railroad overpass. Another difficulty was the breaking of the spindle on the hydrant at the main entrance of the plant.

In our favor was a wind of only 2 or 3 mph from the east, which helped keep the fire from getting into the raw materials warehouse.

In my opinion, it was mainly because of a well-disciplined and trained department and the complete cooperation and dedication of truly professional fire fighters who didn’t back up one inch that a major disaster was prevented and that it was possible to contain and extinguish this serious fire.

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