Industrial Fire Protection

Industrial Fire Protection

With the rapid advance of American industry in the past decade, the fire protection problems due to this growth have multiplied in both intensity and complexity. As a result, greater emphasis has been placed on this subject by management and the fire service in an effort to safeguard the nation’s economy which depends to so great an extent on industrial stability.

The forthcoming May issue of FIRE ENGINEERING will feature a number of articles which have an important bearing on plant safety. This carries on a practice which began some years ago as a service to an important segment of our readers—plant fire chiefs and fire protection engineers.

As in the past, municipal fire protection will not be neglected by this emphasis. The editors have scheduled a number of articles which apply to both fields and we commend them to your attention.

Industrial Fire Protection


Industrial Fire Protection


Growth in Size of Plants Turns Spotlight on Adequacy of

Foam barrage laid by Shell Oil plant fire fighters during field tests of new equipment. The nation’s oil refineries boast excellent private fire brigades, equipped with most modern fire control devices

WITH THE NATION’S traceable fire losses topping one billion dollars a year, not to speak of the 12,000-plus lives sacrificed to fire, it is natural that fire protection authorities should seek diligently into the causes for the appalling waste.

Research by FIRE ENGINEERING, the National Board of Fire Underwriters, National Fire Protection Association, Factory Mutuals and other insurance groups is coining up with some of the answers.

Most recent enlightening data comes from NFPA (NFPA Quarterly, April, 1956) in the form of an analysis of the large-loss fires suffered in this

country and Canada in 1955. There were 316 such fires, each involving a loss of $250,000 or more. Incidental to these fires, which cost the two countries $267,704,500, there were 296 deaths and 615 injuries (many firemen being listed among the victims).

These large-loss fires accounted for 24.5 per cent of the total fire loss in the United States and Canada. It is significant that among the six classifications into which these fires were placed the manufacturing or industrial group showed the worst records, as evidenced by the table on the opposite page taken from the NFPA records.

It will be noted that for the past five years, these occupational categories have the dubious distinction of showing the most consistent costly record of large-loss fires.

Lack of space prevents reviewing all the contributing factors responsible for the total property losses of $76 million-plus in the 78 large industrial fires. However, certain findings disclosed by the summary bear directly upon the subject of this report: private fire brigades and squads in industrial occupancies.

Of these fires in the manufacturing group, the NFPA says: At 46 fires the absence of a well trained and equipped fire brigade was a notable weakness in private plant protection. It comments further: Fourteen private fire brigades performed their duties satisfactorily, but in four cases they could not do so because of insufficient equipment.

The NFPA summary makes this further observation: The absence of a fire brigade contributed to the size of the loss in 27 fires. At 11 others, a well equipped and trained brigade played a major part in preventing still more extensive damage. Eighteen brigades were ineffective, either because of insufficient fire fighting equipment or because the fire was too far advanced at discovery for their capabilities.

Who should have a private fire force?

No industrial property is too small to profitably maintain some form of private fire organization. The kind and extent of the protection force depends upon several factors: (a) the nature of the enterprise, its operations and hazards; (b) the size and evaluation of the property; (c) the location with respect to proximity of public protective services, fire, water, supervisory service, etc., and the outside fire exposure hazards. Manifestly, the more the plant is dependent upon its own resources for fire protection, the more imperative it is that those protection resources be adequate for the task in hand. In large organizations, particularly where hazards are numerous and severe, it may be advisable to organize and maintain a complete, fully equipped and manned fire department, patterned after the municipal department, as is done in the large steel, oil, chemical and other industrial plants. In others, where safety conditions are more favorable, a plant fire brigade utilizing only squads and/or fire teams equipped with first aid and certain built-in plant protection may be indicated.

Many industrial firms employ combinations of fire department and trained fire teams. Where squads or teams are maintained, the question is: Should they be departmentalized, that is, operated within a department or building of the plant, or should they serve the entire establishment? Specialized and localized protection may be called for in one plant and not in another.

It is generally agreed that regardless of whether or not special teams or crews are maintained for localized protection, and whether they are included in the fire brigade, there should be employees assigned to the plant brigade who shall respond to fires anywhere in the plant.

Functions and responsibilities

The type of fire protection organization is further influenced by the duties the brigade and/or teams may be called upon to perform, and their responsibilities. The nature of the duties may vary materially with different establishments. Demands upon the force may go beyond normal protection from fire and prevention of fire. Some plants assign to the fire safety department such responsibilities as shutting down equipment, evacuation, control of processes, maintenance of emergency communications, direction of rescue and first aid squads, performing salvage and so forth. Given the right organization and training, with management support, private fire brigades can do an efficient job in not only fighting fires, but more important, in preventing them. Backed by the necessary authority, they can be responsible for a wide variety of safety sendees, such as inspection of housekeeping maintenance, supervision of hazardous operations including repairs involving welding and cutting and protection against water and other damage.

It is desirable to have the details of responsibility for the various functions of the fire security services settled before deciding upon the kind and size of the forces themselves. It is worth repeating: A fire brigade can be no more successful than the importance vested in it by the management. The protective organization must rate in importance, responsibility, pay and other details with other essential plant divisions. Its fire chief, or head of safety, should be responsible to, and report directly to, top plant executives. Large or small, the plant brigade must operate under trained, experienced super-vision in whatever tasks it is called upon to perfrom.

Effective for the task it must perform, this industrial fire truck is being put through its paces by plant fire fighters at the Bridgoport-Lycoming Division of AVCO, Stratford, Conn.

—Photo courtesy Tom Magner

This multi-purpose fire truck, pictured in the plant fire station of National Petro-Chemical Corp., was made to measure for the special fire hazards the fire brigade must cope with. In addition to water and foam, the unit con discharge a ton of dry chemicals on a fire in two minutes, nine seconds. At left is trailer containing extra drums of foam solution

—Photo courtesy Mine Safety Appliances Co.

Training-by-doing at the Brooklyn plant of Chas. Pfizer & Co., Inc., drug and chemical manufacturers. Dr. L. G. Nickell, Pfizer plant physiologist, extinguishes solvent fire with CO2 during plant's weekly fire fighting class. Adolph Viehl, Fire Control Supervisor (at mike) and Ed Westrick, Chief of the plant fire brigade, instruct; Frank Moraveck, Fire Control Assistant (right) observesPrivate plant fire brigade and municipal fire department cooperation is practiced at the Van Wert, Ohio, plant of The Borden Company. Here, yard hydrant and hose house are inspected by (left to right) Milo Keith, Borden inspecting engineer; John Jebins, Borden field fire protection engineer and an officer of the Van Wert Fire Department

—Photo courtesy The Borden Company

Functions to be the responsibility of the plant protective forces will vary with the beforementioned conditions. Among the tasks normally undertaken by the force are:

  1. Setting up the fire protection and prevention program.
  2. Educating and training plant personnel in fire suppression practices.
  3. Calling outside assistance, such as public fire departments in time of fire; maintaining contact with public fire services.
  4. Protecting plant equipment and material against damage by the elements—water, wind, etc.; performing salvage operations.
  5. Supervising maintenance and construction operations where possibility of fire may be present; maintaining plant protective fire equipment.
  6. Operating first aid fire appliances.
  7. Monitoring exit drill plans.
  8. Dealing during time of fire, with processes and machinery which operate continuously.
  9. Safeguarding valuable records, raw material, and finished products.
  10. Assisting departmental heads and supervisors in training employees in use of first aid fire appliances and other fire extinguishing equipment.

The plant brigade organization

Plant fire protection is an aroundthe-clock job. The fire forces, whatever their extent, shoidd be organized with that end in view, capable of providing security day and night, busy or idle periods, during vacations and partial or complete shutdowns.

Operating directly under the plant manager or other top official, the organization should be tailored to fit the particular business in question.

In most plants the frequency of fires is not great enough to warrant permanent firemen; in others, as has been said, the business may call for a fullpaid fire force on a par with the best type municipal fire department.

In simplest form, the private plant fire organization would consist of the plant manager, assisted during work periods by a shop foreman or plant maintenance mechanic and at idle periods by a watchman.

If the size of the plant requires it, management may designate one employee as fire chief and he may have personnel to assist as squad and team leaders, inspectors, security officers and so forth. In general, the number of employees assigned to the fire security force or brigade will depend upon local conditions, an important factor of which is the availability of public fire departments.

Organizing the plant fire protection setup should include determination of the nature and extent of fire control and extinguishing facilities, selection and allocation of personnel, relationship of the plant brigade to other plant divisions, and so forth.

Plant fire protection personnel

The head of any fire brigade, or any comprehensive protection force, should possess certain qualifications, among them being:

  1. Knowledge of and experience in the fields of fire protection and prevention.
  2. Some knowledge of the industry served by the plant, and of plant production policies.
  3. Ability to handle and direct men and command respect throughout the organization.
  4. Ability to train or to supervise training of personnel.

The same general rules apply to the selection of personnel for fire brigades that apply to selection of municipal fire fighters. The principal factors are:

  1. Members must be physically fit. Qnly able-bodied should be considered.
  2. They must be willing, and interested in their work. Men should not be compelled to serve.
  3. Personnel should be available for duty according to predetermined schedule. Men should be selected from all shifts and maintenance staff for this duty. Constant checks on periods of rotation of personnel and changes in assignments should be carried out. Selections should be so made as to provide necessary manpower at all periods, in all plant zones.
  4. Selection of personnel should be left to the fire chief.
  5. Personnel selected for the brigade should be from work classifications less liable to be transferred, so as not to break up team combinations.


Under certain conditions it may be advisable to offer inducements to make membership in the fire brigade inviting. These inducements may take the form of extra pay, credits toward promotion, time-off or honors and rewards of one kind or another.

A number of plants make it a practice to present each member of the fire brigade with a small badge denoting membership and rank, on the theory that establishment of authorin’ in the plant to badge wearers will help enforce fire prevention rules and regulations, and also give the wearer a greater sense of responsibility for plant safety.

The number and form of inducements offered plant fire brigade members vary. Besides direct personal rewards, some plants set aside club rooms or other quarters for fire brigades. These may have libraries, projection machines, blackboards and other facilities for instructing in firemanship. In some cases, the quarters also are used for social activities, further enhancing membership in the brigade. It is found that promotion of fraternalism and social functions in which both management and fire brigade members join, encourage and cement good will.

Training a requisite:

A sound training program is a requisite for every private plant fire force. Carrying out that program on a continuing basis is even more important.

A private fire brigade is organized for emergency service, to fight fire and render services incident to fire suppression. Its training for those services must necessarily reflect the conditions peculiar to the business, and to each situation.

All training in firemanship should be directed by the head of the brigade or department. Assistance of plant personnel as well as outside fire protection training specialists should be available.

A combination of classroom work and interior drills, as well as outside training in actual fire extinguishment, should be held periodically. As far as possible such training should be given on company time. Fire drills may be combined with exit drills.

Too much emphasis cannot be placed on actual, practical extinguishment of the type of fires likely to be encountered in the plant. Such training-by-doing may require an area where fires may be started, water and chemicals used and men may maneuver. Plants not having sufficient available area for these purposes should arrange with local fire departments or other industrial plants to use their facilities.

Details in training for safety and firemanship may include talks and lectures by municipal fire fighters; lectures by fire protection and safety engineers; use of visual aids, including educational films—of which there are a wide variety; round table discussion group meetings, critiques. Selected personnel may be sent to receive specialized training at state or other fire schools and colleges, or to test and experimental laboratories or other sources of learning maintained by fire equipment manufacturers, insurance groups, government agencies and so forth.

Technical books and periodicals devoted to subjects germane to the fire brigade and its administration and operation should be made available to instructors and members of plant safety forces to enable them to keep abreast of developments in fire suppression and to stir their interest for more knowledge.

Plant inspection

Members of fire brigades, crews and teams, should make frequent plant inspection trips under the guidance of the plant chief and/or his aides. This will help familiarize brigade personnel with the plant, the various manufacturing processes, the facilities provided for fire fighting. At the same time, it will have a beneficial effect on plant employees in promoting better housekeeping and fire prevention, convincing them of the management’s determination to promote safety from fire.

Inspections, as a function of the training educational program, should not be confused with routine plant inspections by the duly appointed safety and other brigade inspectors.

Critiques and contests:

Plant brigades, no less than public fire services should fight fires three ways: before they happen, when they occur, and after they have happened.

Following a fire or other emergency involving the plant fire brigade, the brigade chief or instructor (with or without appropriate management representatives in attendance) should hold a post-mortem class, during which the incident in question is thoroughly reviewed, the methods and operations explained, and the mistakes or failures discussed. The purpose of the critique is to promote improved firemanship and teamwork.

Obviously, such sessions must be administered with tact and fairness; they should not be the basis of recrimination or cause embarrassment.

Teamwork between brigade members and squads, so essential to good fire fighting, may be promoted by friendly contests, in which squads compete with each other on a time and skill basis. Such competition can improve knowledge of firemanship and foster pride in brigade membership, and in personal and team accomplishment. Competitive drills, however, should not be permitted to deteriorate into athletic events or to deviate from the prime objective: better firemanship.

Cooperating with public fire force: Cooperation between municipal and private plant fire forces is an important detail of any plant fire safety program. Study of large-loss fires indicates that not infrequently there was either no cooperation between plant and public fire forces, or else the latter .was called in only after the plant brigade had tried to handle the fire extinguishing job itself, and failed. Furthermore, there are cases on record particularly in suburban and rural areas, where plant management has refused to permit a local fire department to enter upon the company premises, either to plan fire defense strategy, or to complete some cooperative arrangement.

Continued on page 432

Specialized hazards call for specialized protection techniques and equipment. Here, an explosimeter is used with a probe tube to test for combustible gases at the vast plant of the National Petro-Chemicals Corp. near Tuscola, III.

Photo courtesy Mine Safety Appliances Co.


Continued from page 399

Fortunately this policy of non-cooperation, which was most common during World War II in plants working on defense orders, classed as high security risks is diminishing. It is generally recognized today that plant management must have a close understanding and working arrangement with its nearest public fire service.

In many communities where industry believes it necessary to have the cooperation of local fire fighters, plant management will go out of its way to invite that cooperation. Some establishments have even provided the fire station, fire apparatus or other equipment for the local public department. Others have contributed financially. In some areas cooperation of oil, fuel and milk plants and distributors takes the form of placing their tankers at the disposal of firemen in time of need to haul water. In others, the plant water supply systems are made available to local fire departments in time of fire. One large dairy company in a small community has arranged for local volunteers to hook up their pumper direct to a supply pipe leading from the firm’s elevated reservoir, the only large source of water in the immediate area.

Plans for coordination of public and private plant brigades should be prepared before fire strikes. They should include such details as (a) procedure and facilities for calling the public firemen; (b) response by the latter to, and into, plant property, and provision for guides; (c) best methods to be employed in combating the type and kinds of fires likely to be encountered in the plant; (d) advance knowledge by outside public fire forces of the plant’s fire protective system, with emphasis on sprinklers, location of key sprinkler valves.