Report of the
Committee on Fire Manual *
International Association of Fire Engineers
FIRES in oil refineries, storage stations and other places where petroleum or its products are stored, kept or used for any purpose, require a strict application of the first principle laid down in these papers, of isolating the fire and confining it to as small an area as possible.
All agencies known or devised for the controlling or extinguishing of oil fires must be brought into play—steam, fire foam, pumps, water, etc. The application of each one of these agencies requires special knowledge and must be utilized in a special way.
When a fire occurs in a plant, the first officer on arrival should immediately get in touch with the superintendent or other person in charge on the premises, to ascertain what action had been taken in using any or all fire extinguishing agencies available on the premises, in the meantime directing the stretching of hose lines to this or that point, as conditions may warrant, from which streams may be delivered instantly as required.
It is possible that the steam or fire foam when used may be successful in blanketing the fire and causing its extinguishment, but where this result is not obtained promptly, it is the duty of the fire officer to make a quick estimate as to the use of his streams, getting them into action without delay, for cooling or wetting down purposes at the fire-affected point or points in close proximity endangered because of radiated heat.
Fires orginate generally in tanks, stills, filling and storage buildings, and are caused by spontaneous combustion, lightning, static electricity, flashing of vapors, leakage in equipment, carelessness of employees, etc.
Tanks are constructed generally of iron or steel throughout, except in some instances where the tops or covers are of wood; where the tops are of iron or steel the construction is much weaker than the lower plates comprising the tanks, for the purpose of liberating through its top any unusual force generated on the interior of the tank by explosion, etc., thereby preventing any rupture which would allow the burning oil to flow out of the tank.
In the construction of the tops of oil tanks, hinged doors or shutters are provided, which are assumed to open up and liberate any unusual interior pressure, and after the pressure has been dissipated may fall back to their original closed position, and be the cause of a fire’s extinguishment in the tank by cutting off of the air necessary for combustion.
The most serious hazard develops when a large oil tank is involved with fire, in that it usually communicates to adjoining tanks or other structures adjacent, by radiated heat or by means of liquid fire, which flows through a rupture in some part of a fire-involved tank, the quantity that may flow being governed by the location of the rupture, whether at a high or low point on the tank.
Where the home agencies, such as firefoam and steam, fail in their purpose, the heavy responsibility then devolves upon the officer in charge of the regular fire department to handle the situation in such manner as will prevent the fire’s extension to other points, and his agency will be water, not as an extinguisher but only as a retarding influence, and keen judgment and foresight are absolutely essential by each and every man directing a hose stream.
*Report prepared by Deputy Chief T. F. Douprherty, officer in charge of the New York Fire College, and approved hy Chief John Kenlon. President International Association of Fire Engineers 1919-1920.
One false move may mean disaster, especially in the improper direction of a stream of water.
Assume a tank involved with fire, its sides are intact, only the top having been ruptured by an interior explosion. Employees on the premises are using firefoam and steam and have large pumps in action, drawing off oil from the tank and piping it to other tanks on the premises.
Hose streams are brought into action by the fire department, which should only be used in cooling down the side plates at all points of the fire-involved tank, or wetting down adjacent tanks to prevent ignition by radiated heat.
The skillful direction of the stream is necessary in that none of the water composing the stream enters the involved tank, as it may displace the burning liquid and cause it to flow out of the tank, or the water may be converted into steam by prolonged heat and bring about the same result by its expansion.
Where a tank involved with fire had a rupture in its side plates and burning oil was issuing therefrom, it would require entirely different action on the part of a fire department, in that the streams in sufficient numbers should be utilized in checking and diverting the travel of the burning oil in directions that would not endanger other tanks or structures, and for the purpose of accomplishing this result, the officer should decide quickly and send in additional alarms to bring such companies to the scene as may be necessary to cope with the situation.
Fires in stills are of frequent occurrence and are successfully controlled by employees on the premises, who pull the fire from under the still and pump out the oil therein, as far as it is possible to do so, and what little remains is allowed to burn itself out.
Under no circumstances should water from a hose stream be directed on a still, as the hazard may be increased by producing serious ruptures in the metal parts and allow burning liquid to flow therefrom.
Filling houses, wherein cans are filled and sealed, also present a serious hazard, when a fire gets beyond the control of the employees on the premises, and the efforts of a fire extinguishing force should be directed in such manner that the fire will not extend out of the structure, by actual contact, radiated heat, or by the water used in the extinguishing operation. They are best controlled by the placing of a cordon of hose streams about the structure involved, to be used in wetting down adjacent exposures and in preventing any flow of burning liquid from the building.
In any refinery, storage station or other place where large quantities of inflammable oils are stored or kept, in tight containers or drums, especially of metal construction, it is absolutely necessary, where such drums or containers are subjected to the effects of fire, for even a short period of time, that there is great danger of their bursting, due to the expansion of the liquid, and to prevent this condition a liberal supply of water should be directed on the drums or containers to keep them cool.
While water is recognized as the best extinguishing agent for fire, and is generally distributed indiscriminately over a fire-affected area with good result-, it should not under any circumstances be utilized in the regular manner where petroleum or its products in liquid form in open containers are involved with fire, particularly in oil storage stations or refineries, etc.
Under no circumstances should any of the water delivered from a hose stream be so directed in thi particular class of operations in such manner that the hazard will be thereby intensified.
“Let well enough alone,” could on many occasions be followed literally at an operation where the fire is liquid in character, allowing it to burn out, using no water whatever, merely stretching and charging lines, and standing fast as a precautionary measure.
A great responsibility is placed upon all fire department forces engaged in operation at oil fires, from the highest ranking officer to the member in the low -est grade, and it behooves each and every man to be on the alert and avoid any false move or improper action that would increase the hazard. A wrong move with a forceful stream for even a few seconds, or a blow with an axe on a pipe or other equipment, might be the means of developing a conflagration.
Vapors of petroleum products in confined spacepresent a greater danger than the liquid itself, and prompt action should be taken in opening up doors, windows or skylights to produce an air circulation.
Full containers are less dangerous than those which are only partly filled, as no void exists wherein vapor may accumulate. The carrying of the hand lantern, ordinarily used in fire departments, when lighted in close proximity to any volatile inflammable liquid in opjen containers or which may have leaked therefrom, or which may have been by accident upset and scattered over a floor area or yard, is dangerous, as the flash of vapor will ignite the liquid.
Where large quantities of oil are involved with fire, either in a building or open area, and it is necessary that some action be taken to prevent its flow over a greater area, in addition to the use of streams, it is suggested that where any means are provided or may be available, such as sandbags, loose sand or earth, that they be utilized in the formation of a dam to stop further flow of the burning liquid.
Inspections of oil plants should be frequently made by fire department officers, whether or not such plants are in or out of their immediate districts, for the purpose of obtaining information as to the layout in its entirety.
Where any special information is required, there should he no hesitancy in propounding questions to the superintendent or other person in charge, and any and all information so obtained should be promulgated for the benefit of all subordinates.
A suggestion is made that any oil plant or refinery is of sufficient importance to cause all officers to be assembled from time to time, and the line of attackdecided upon in advance of the fire, and such special instructions as may be necessary could be given by the ranking officer to subordinates.
All companies operating in an oil plant or refinery involved with fire are at all times in extreme danger as to their personal safety, and officers should be on the alert to see that their position is such that they are not confined to only one avenue of escape when the unexpected circumstance develops.