New Type Crash Unit Controls Bulk Plant Blaze
—Wichita Beacon photos
Boeing Airplane Company assistance credited with saving Kansas town threatened by gasoline fire
A NEWLY DESIGNED foam generating apparatus from the Boeing Airplane Company’s Wichita Division filled the role of a good neighbor recently when a gasoline-fed holocaust threatened to wipe out the entire town of Andale, Kansas.
The drama began at 11:20 a.m. on August 26, when the driver of a 1,000-gallon gasoline transport completed loading operations at the Andale Farmers CoOperative Association, located one block from the central business district. Entering the cab of his vehicle, the driver touched the starter button and immediately the truck was enveloped in flames.
Before being controlled the fire spread to three gasoline storage tanks; threatened six others and a butane storage building; overcame 13 persons; and required the services of nine out-of-town fire departments and four other assisting agencies. The column of smoke was visible from a distance of 15 miles, as the fire raged out of control for two hours. During the struggle to control the blaze, the driver of the transport truck was rushed to a Wichita hospital with second-degree burns and 12 firemen were overcome by the heat and smoke.
Fire resists large force
The Andale Fire Department was first in upon receipt of the alarm and a radio appeal for additional aid was made immediately. The response brought units from Wichita, 21 miles to the southeast; the Sedgwick County Fire Department with six pieces of equipment under Chief Ray Davis; McConnell Air Force Base at Wichita; the Hutchinson City Fire Department; the Hutchinson Naval Air Station; Colwich; Mt. Hope; Pretty Prairie; and Valley Center.
In addition, two Civil Defense rescue units, the Kansas State Highway Patrol and numerous sheriff’s deputies converged on the scene. Their assistance was welcome as a major traffic control problem developed at Andale as the pumpers, water tankers and other emergency vehicles mobilized.
The flames, fed by gasoline, diesel oil and fuel oil, defied all attempts at control by conventional fire fighting methods. One of the flaming gasoline tanks ruptured; six storage tanks were burning at the vents; a two-inch pipe from a 25,000gallon tank had broken and was spewing gasoline onto the fire area; a one-story sheet metal warehouse had collapsed onto its contents of butane tanks, barrelled oil and solvents; and the gasoline transport truck was burning.
Water supplies proved to be a critical factor in the fire control operations because the community of Andale does not have a municipal system.
More than 100,000 gallons of the precious water were hauled to the fire ground from distances up to 25 miles via tankers and other vehicles pressed into service, as firemen labored to keep the flames from spreading.
Help requested from Boeing
Cooling streams were played on the storage tanks to hold off explosions and onto buildings adjacent to the Co-Op and to exposed residences across the street (see diagram). But it soon became apparent the control measures employed were serving only as a delaying action. In the extremity the sheriff then contacted Boeing Airplane Company, by radio, where two new mobile foam generators known as the 0-15L recently had gone into service.
Boeing Fire Marshal Willis E. Seal and a crew responded with one of the units, leaving the Wichita Division plants at 12:35 pan. The 31-mile distance to Andale was covered in 38 minutes. Upon arrival, the route of the fire was found blocked by fire fighting equipment that had preceded it.
In an official report to company officials afterwards, Fire Marshal Seal said, “The approach to the area was anything but ideal. It was necessary, due to the location of the fire, that the truck leave the street at a railroad crossing and proceed down the tracks between the depot and elevator building. This was done with apparent ease in second gear. Upon leaving the railroad, extremely soft ground was encountered; this was due to the amounts of water used by other apparatus and the ground level in the area. Nevertheless, the unit was maneuvered into position without difficulty.”
As this jockeying was under way, the turret operators went into action. Once in position, the blanket of foam snuffed out the danger to Andale in a matter of minutes. Seal noted the intense heat of the fire at first caused some breakdown of the foam, but the blanket remained intact upon a second application. But the battle was not won—one critical problem remained. Burning gasoline from the ruptured 2-inch loading line was falling onto the gasoline transport, adding to the fire itself and posing an explosive threat. This handicap was overcome by bringing up a heavy civil defense rescue winch truck which was used to pull the transport away after which the ruptured line was capped under a cover of foam from the Boeing equipment.
Three hand lines were brought into play from the vehicle in addition to the two turrets, and in a period of minutes the entire area was blanketed. Seal’s equipment was reloaded with water from the tank trucks present and more foam stabilizer was supplied bv McConnell AFB.
The fire area received another application of foam after which salvage operations began. Five hours later, when Co-Op personnel transferred 10,000 gallons of gasoline from the vertical tank into transports, the consistency of the foam still was such that no fire equipment was needed for standby purposes.
The new engine’s water capacity is 4,030 gallons, with 300 gallons of foam stabilizer. Seal reported his truck used 8,000 gallons of water and 500 gallons of stabilizer at Andale, 70,000 gallons of foam being generated.
“The foam was the only thing that could have stopped this fire,” Sedgwick County Chief Davis commented afterwards. “If there had been an explosion the whole town could have gone.” Kansas newspapers hailed the foam apparatus, claiming it saved the town. The fire consumed 30,000 gallons of gasoline and fuel oils. Damages to the Co-Op were estimated at $25,000. Undamaged, but constituting a terrifying threat were the stored butane and other tanks containing between 35,000 and 40,000 gallons of petroleum products.
—Boeing Airplane Co. photo
Unit designed for crashes
The basic design of the 0-15L was conceived by Seal when the Wichita Division went into production of Air Force multi-jet bombers. As the B-47 program passed its peak and tooling began for B-52 Stratofortress production it was apparent that a new-type chemical foam unit was needed.
Three factors were uppermost in Seal s mind: The new-type unit must deliver a large volume of extinguishing material in the shortest possible time; it must be simple in design; and be easy for firemen to operate. A water tank wagon caught Seal’s imagination and his ideas began to jell.
Proposals for the new type equipment were approved by the company and the Air Force, and U. S. Fire Protection Engineering Service, Inc., in Kansas City, Mo., was retained as consulting engineers for further design and development. The Air Force Air Material Command then ordered two of the units to be built by the Monatco Manufacturing Company, of Kansas City.
The prime mover is a 320-hp Le Roi, Cline tractor. The tanker-type trailer has a “catwalk” atop the structure with twin turrets equipped with American La France “Blabbermouth” nozzles and the unit operates with a three-man crew.
Each turret can be rotated a full 360 degrees and can also direct a stream 70 degrees on a vertical plane. The turrets have individual Gorman-Rupp pumps with a capacity of 560 gpm, each powered by a 90-hp Continental engine. Turret operators can work at ranges up to 195 feet and can empty the tank in four minutes. Ground sweep and undertruck nozzles have been eliminated on the 0-15L. This is possible because of the great operating range of the turrets which can fan the stream from its 195foot range to an arc 15 feet wide reaching 105 feet.
The 0-15L can accelerate to 45 miles an hour in 55 seconds, and on the run to Andale attained a top speed of 67 miles an hour. With the tank section, its overall length is 45 feet. It is 11 feet, 3 inches in height and 8 1/2 feet wide. Loaded gross weight is 71,340 pounds.
There is just one remote control device, a switch on top which gives the turret operator selection of water, foam, or both. Access to the tanks is through manholes located near the turrets. Ladders are located at each side and at the rear.
There are 18 wheels to each 0-15L, 16 in dual tandem. A sand-spraying device is positioned near the power wheels to facilitate operation on slick surfaces. The unit is radio-equipped and turret operators have radio headsets in their helmets. This permits communication from the driver and allows remote control operation if necessary.