PREINCIDENT INTELLIGENCE OF QUARRIES

BY ERIC G. BACHMAN

You should gather preincident intelligence on all facilities you protect. Even if the facility is considered not to be a threat, preincident intelligence and planning are essential to reduce surprises and to improve the safety of your personnel. Sometimes we become complacent with our facilities. With infrequent incidents comes the perception of little threat. However, fire officials must gain an understanding of potential situations and their impact on our services. You cannot let your guard down and assume that a facility is of little significance or challenge based on the history of the facility (no or few incidents), the nature of the operation (reduced chance of fire), low life hazard, or the types of materials handled (nonflammable or hazardous). Lack of incidents does not mean lack of threat or vulnerability. We must be prepared to respond to industry-specific incidents.

No fire department can handle every situation alone or maintain the equipment to respond to every conceivable emergency. However, fire departments must know the potentials that exist within their communities. They must know what resources are available, determine what resources might be needed, and-extremely important-how to get them.


1 Photos by author.

An industry in which I have found many fire departments perform little or no preincident preplanning is the mining industry. Well-publicized mining incidents are few. Unless there is a large life loss or the potential for tragedy, like the Que Creek Mine incident in Pennsylvania in 2002, rarely do you read about incidents at such facilities. One commonality of those published incidents is that the incident taxed the local services and necessitated numerous and sustained resources. Mines typically are considered as underground or surface and can be further classified according to the kind of mineral being extracted-coal or metal/nonmetal. Each type has universal dangers and specific hazards and potentials. These facilities may operate full time or intermittently and be nonproducing or closed. Regardless, preincident preparedness is critical.

MINING FATALITIES


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According to the U.S. Department of Labor and Industry Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), there were 4,057 mining operations in the United States in 2002 (the most up-to-date listing). MSHA reports that there were 85 fatal mining incidents in 2000, 72 in 2001, 69 in 2002, 56 in 2003, and 55 in 2004. As of August 27, 2005, there were 35. These fatalities occurred at all types of mining facilities and were the result of numerous circumstances.

MSHA publishes reports on mining fatalities that include the incident circumstances, lessons learned, and “Best Practices” to prevent similar incidents. As mentioned earlier, many dangers are inherent in the mining industry. Some of the fatal mining incidents published in MSHA’s “Fatal Accident Investigation Reports” follow:

• January 2003. A contractor was killed while welding on a scrubber duct at a cement plant. A combustible membrane in the scrubber ignited, resulting in the worker’s fatal injuries.

• February 2003. A 26-year-old press operator was killed when he was working in a reaction tank at a surface clay facility. A steam injection line activated, engulfing the worker in high-pressure steam.

• May 2003. A 50-year-old foreman was electrocuted at a sand and gravel facility while working on a 480-volt power cable for a water pump.

• December 2003. A truck driver was killed after he became caught between the truck frame and the bed frame after the raised bed under which he was working unexpectedly lowered.


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In the few examples above, incident types ranged from maintenance to utility to process incidents. The hazards are many, and fire departments must be aware of the hazard potentials that exist within mining facilities.


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Although there are several types of mines, this article will focus on quarries. The hazards and issues presented are only a few that might be encountered. Local conditions, as well as other mining types, will present challenges not covered in this article.

PREINCIDENT CONSIDERATIONS

Although quarries do not seem to be significant target hazards, they present many unique and special hazards that should be identified, prepared for, and drilled on. Like any other hazard, access is a critical factor. In photo 1, note the levels and roadways in the quarry.


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Quarries are limited in their access points, and you must understand the access point location, type, and limitations. Quarry roads may have width limitations as well as compromised shoulders. Incidents involving quarry vehicles have occurred after traveling through established berms and overtraveling roadways and driving into ponds or other water hazards and overturning. Fire officers should meet with facility representatives to review proper driving procedures on quarry roads and train their chauffeurs on the proper practices.

A second consideration when gathering quarry information is familiarity with the terms of the trade. Does the facility engage in other related fields, such as paving and concrete operations? If so, you need to understand those processes and their inherent dangers as well.


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Fire officials should also be aware of facility procedures so they do not compromise the safety of emergency workers. When responding to a quarry incident, adhere to facility procedures, including warnings, such as the Blasting Area warning sign in photo 2. A unified command system and established communications are critical to successful incident operations. Radio waves can trigger in-place explosives. If blasting operations are not considered, the results could be deadly. The command system must be in place and practiced before an emergency occurs.

VEHICLES


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Quarries use numerous types of heavy equipment including bulldozers, front-end loaders, drillers, excavators, as well as dump and water trucks. Understanding vehicle operations, their limitations, and other specific information including vehicle weight (for stabilization and lifting operations) and construction (for extrication purposes) is important.


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A unique vehicle that must be recognized, understood, and preplanned for is the bulk explosives truck (photos 3-5). This vehicle is used to prepare an area for charge/detonation. The vehicle in photo 4 is placarded (U.S. Department of Transportation Table 1) Explosives 1.1, which indicates a mass explosion hazard. The forward bulk compartment tank of this vehicle carries 23,000 pounds of dry ammonium nitrate fertilizer. The rear bulk compartment tank carries 8,000 pounds of an oxidizing emulsion liquid. This vehicle also has a 300-gallon fuel tank to support the process. The detonators are carried in a separate compartment in the rear of the vehicle. The vehicle’s owner/operator is a contractor to this quarry. Although you may not have a quarry in your first-due district, this vehicle may travel through your district. A good rapport with the vehicle/company owner/operator is important to understanding the vehicle’s use, practice, and procedures, as well as to determine response protocols if the vehicle is involved in an accident or is part of an incident both on- and off-site. In addition, establish the locations for on-site storage of explosives and the types of materials contained in these storage facilities.

PROCESS HAZARDS

Meeting with quarry personnel to understand what they do and how they do it is important. An area is prepared for blasting, and after the blast, the fallout material is loaded into a large dump truck and transported to and dumped into a crusher. In photo 6, the dump truck is unloading into a crusher; a screen building is behind it. A rear view of the dump truck unloading is shown in photo 7. Conveyors transport the crushed material to the screen tower, which may be several stories high, to separate the rocks into sizes. The larger materials are carried by more conveyor/tracks to crusher units that pound the rock into the desired size. After the material has been properly sized, it is transported by additional conveyors/tracks (photos 8, 9) to storage bins (photo 10). A crushed stone storage bin and stockpiles are shown in photo 11. Dump trucks are then filled with the product and transported off-site to a job site or an on-site staging area.


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This may sound simple, but there are many hazards to contend with, especially when maintenance must be performed on the processing equipment. The conveyor/track system may present entanglement and high-angle rescue issues. Do you know where the controls are for the conveyors? Proper shutdown procedures? Do you know the height circumstances presented and how to get to where you might need to go? An aerial device may be of use, but elevation variances and other placement issues may prevent its use. A series of catwalks may present access problems.


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Do you understand how the screening process works? Do you know the crushing process and what may be needed to extricate someone trapped? Do you have a confined-space capability or know where the nearest confined-space rescue unit is?

As you can see, it is important to understand industry-specific processes and how your services may be needed. You may not be able to maintain the equipment or training requirements for confined-space or high-angle operations, but preplanning these sites will allow you to determine your limitations and develop response contingencies.

SPECIAL HAZARDS


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Mine operations pose several hazards for employees and emergency workers. Among them are the following.

Engulfment. Processed materials are piled high with little or no flow-control measures. A slight shift of material could cause a catastrophic slide of material, engulfing those around. How would you deal with preventing engulfment or responding to an engulfment event?


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Fall hazards. You must consider the potential for falls in quarry operations. What is the stability of rock faces and other areas that may become work platforms? What is the depth of the quarry? A quarry with several levels is shown in photo 1. A quarry must obtain a permit to continue levels. In Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection’s Mine Safety Division dictates level depths. The average level depth is 50 feet.

Water. During mining operations, ground water sources are often penetrated, causing flooding conditions. To manage this, a pond (photo 12) may be built to collect and pump the water out of the quarry. The depths of these ponds vary and can be extremely deep. Be extremely cautious when working around these water mediums.

Dust and explosive gas hazards. Enclosed areas must be carefully monitored. According to MSHA, eight explosions occurred within a five-month period in 2001 as a result of mishandling, storage, and use of supporting processes. Although it is not the intent of this article to detail specific mining guidelines, 30 CFR, Part 47 is the federal regulation covering “Hazard Communication for the Mining Industry.”

Divisions associated with quarries and other mining facilities, such as cementing and paving divisions (photo 13), should also be preplanned. Cementing and paving divisions also present hazards, including some of the above. Paving operations may include rotary dryers to remove moisture from the rock, which may present a confined-space hazard as well as increase the potential for a fire because of the fuel needed for the drying process.


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Blacktop tanks, in which the material to mix with the stone for asphalt roads is stored, may be located at the site. These tanks are generally heated in excess of 300°F (photos 14 and 15). Consider the possibility of tank failure, boilover, and the fire potential associated with the heating process.

PREINCIDENT MANAGEMENT

Hopefully, this brief overview of a quarry will lead you to identify any mining facilities in or near your first-due district and enhance your preincident preparedness for incidents at these sites. Preincident management is critical to the outcome of an incident. Fire officials must work with mining representatives to prepare for potential incidents. Face-to-face and coordinated preparedness will go a long way during incident operations. Safety is the top priority and must be incorporated into all command and operational facets.

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The mining industry may be perceived as a low hazard, but it presents many dangers that must be anticipated and prepared for. Fire departments must recognize these hazards in their communities, understand and analyze the potentials that may exist, realize the department’s limitations, and make contingencies for these potentials. If there is a mining facility in or near your department, get out and learn more about it. Facility representatives will welcome the opportunity to assist.

ERIC G. BACHMAN, a 22-year veteran of the fire service, is former fire chief of the Eden Volunteer Fire/Rescue Department in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and currently serves as captain. He is the hazardous materials administrator for the County of Lancaster Emergency Management Agency and serves on the Local Emergency Planning Committee of Lancaster County. He is registered with the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications as a fire officer IV, fire instructor II, hazardous materials technician, and hazardous materials incident commander. He has an associate’s degree in fire science and earned professional certification in emergency management through the state of Pennsylvania. He is also a volunteer firefighter with the Manheim (PA) Fire Department.

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