Gasoline Tank Too Full for Foam
—Foster Marshall, Jr., photos.
A blazing 1,250,000-gallon gasoline storage tank filled to the top so that there was no room for floating a foam blanket was just one of the difficulties that faced the Jacksonville, Fla., Fire Protection Division at a three-alarm bulk plant fire.
Lightning ignited the storage tank during a heavy rain, and up to 3 feet of water in the streets created problems for responding apparatus last June 5. With engines drowned out, stalled cars blocked many streets.
The fire was reported at 4:56 p.m. The first-arriving engine company found fire around the top of the gasoline storage tank, which was one of five tanks in a cluster, and immediately called for a second-alarm assignment that was dispatched at 5:00 p.m. This was followed by a third alarm at 5:06 p.m. The fire attack was directed by Chief J. J. Hubbard and Operations Chief S. J. King.
No room for foam
The tank had a floating roof and, because the tank was filled to capacity, there was no space above the roof to build up a blanket of foam. The foam was blown over the sides by the wind, and the water initially applied created a hazard by causing burning gasoline to spill over the side. The moat surrounding the tank, 3 to 4 feet deep with water from over 4 inches of rain, allowed the burning fuel to flow from the base of the tank around the men operating nozzles, endangering them as well as nearby tanks.
A ditch outside the fuel farm prevented ladder companies and an elevating platform from getting close to the tank, so ground ladders had to be raised. The fence around the property was cut by electric saws to allow Navy foam units to enter.
Eleven streams of water were played on the burning tank to prevent rupture and on the nearest exposed tank to prevent ignition. These were from ten 2 1/2-inch hand lines and a deluge set with a 1 1/2-inch tip.
Nearby tank threatened
For some time, the wind blew the flame and heat directly on an adjoining tank, causing much concern that it would ignite. The hose lines played on the exposed tank prevented it from igniting, and eventually a shift in the wind eliminated the danger.
Fire fighters first reached the top of the blazing tank by a ground ladder, and a short time later others scaled the fixed ladder on the tank to reach the platform near the top. At that time, it was discovered that the tank was completely full. An urgent request was made to the tank farm to transfer gasoline from the tank and lower the level enough for a foam blanket to be laid. After the gasoline level was lowered and a foam blanket was formed on top of the burning liquid, the fire was extinguished.
Two 2 ½-inch foam lines from a Navy foam truck and generator, one 1 1/2-inch foam line with an inline eductor, and three 1-inch Light Water lines from Navy MB-5 crash trucks were used to extinguish the fire.
More aid held on standby
Manpower and equipment furnished by surrounding Navy fire units were a tremendous help in the extinguishment. This equipment consisted of three MB-5 crash trucks with Light Water and two foam tank trucks with generators. Other equipment and men were on a standby basis, ready to respond if needed.
The Jacksonville Fire Division equipment consisted of 15 engine companies, two ladder companies, six chief officer’s cars, rescue equipment and other supporting units. Over 16,000 feet of hose and 338 feet of ladders were used. Also used were 1,600 gallons of protein foam and 340 gallons of Light Water.
Several men were treated at hospitals for burns and exhaustion, but all except one were released after emergency treatment. The one was released after two days. A majority of the fire fighters was treated at the fire for face and hand burns from gasoline fumes and heat or bums to feet and legs caused by standing and walking in 3 to 4 feet of water and gasoline.
Gasoline loss is slight
The burning tank was valued at $55,000 and its contents at $238,640, a total of $293, 640. The fire loss totaled $33,600, which included $30,000 damage to the tank and $3,600 in gasoline. It is significant that only 1.5 percent of the gasoline in the burning tank was lost.
The men who climbed to the top of the flaming tank to apply foam and the crews who stood hip-deep in water and gasoline, often with flames in the water around them, were described by Captain John Waters, the director of public safety, as “heroic.”
One result of the lessons learned at this fire has been a request from the fire prevention bureau to all local farm operators not to fill tanks to the brim, but to leave at least 2 feet of space at the top for extinguishing agents in case of fire.