Prevention Protects Arsenal

Prevention Protects Arsenal

Using fog streams. Rocky Mountain Arsenal fire fighters approach liquid pit fire during training session.Fire fighters at arsenal also train to combat structural fires.

Official photos, U.S. Army, Rocky Mountain Arsenal

Despite highly hazardous operations involving the handling and processing of incendiary and pyrotechnic munitions, missile fuels, toxic chemical munitions and insecticides, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal has completed 14 years without a reportable fire loss.

In recognition of its fire prevention program, this Department of the Army installation received the military division (Army) grand award in the 1969 National Fire Protection Association Fire Prevention Contest. In a ceremony at the arsenal’s fire headquarters, the award plaque was presented to Fire Chief Myron P. Gerton by Brigadier General Erwin M. Graham, Jr., commanding general, United States Army Munitions Command.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal, adjacent to Denver, Colo., has handled vast quantities of chemical and incendiarytype munitions during its years of operation.

The arsenal also blends the fuel used in the Titan II missile and, more recently, the fuel for Gemini and Apollo space flights. It was the arsenalblended fuel that propelled the trouble-ridden Apollo 13 crew safely back.

The fire department at the arsenal is a civilian force of 16 men, augmented by plant employee auxiliaries. Gerton, a veteran of 28 years of arsenal experience, is responsible for the installation’s fire prevention and protection programs. Training in fighting and preventing the types of fires peculiar to Rocky Mountain Arsenal is a continuous and cooperative effort. Special emphasis is placed upon the arsenalwide, year-round fire prevention program.

The fire prevention record was not always first rate, however. Prior to 1955, a series of fires destroyed $1.5 million worth of government property. Recognizing the urgency of reducing this enormous fire loss, arsenal officials initiated some positive fire prevention plans:

A reorganized fire department stressed education and training.

Plans were developed to engineer better fire protection in the plant. Fire prevention standards were revised and better enforced.

Three key words were adoptededucation, engineering, and enforcement.

Quest for knowledge

The arsenal joined the National Fire Protection Association so its firemen could take advantage of the education and training material offered. Individuals joined organizations such as the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Colorado Fire Chiefs Association and various safety organizations through which they could become more knowledgeable.

Since 1956, members of the department have attended over 75 technical schools and conferences, including the Fire Department Instructors Conference, NFPA conferences, fire prevention and protection courses sponsored by various federal agencies, supervisory and leadership conferences, and munitions safety schools. The fire chief attended the National Fire Service Staff and Command School at the University of Maryland.

Library established

A fire department library was established, and today it contains practically every pertinent volume available.

An extensive training program was prepared, drawing upon recently acquired technical training and the newly stocked fire department library. Written, oral, and practical tests were given to fire fighters to determine the effectiveness of the training program. The results were made a permanent record in the individual’s performance file. The level of knowledge and competence of the firemen improved steadily. A storeroom was converted to a quiet study room.

When Denver Community College offered a course in fire science technology, in 1968 six arsenal firemen attended. In 1969, the Denver Fire and Police Departments installed the first closed-circuit television network designed exclusively for training purposes. Seizing the opportunity to further upgrade its firemen, the Arsenal fire department installed a receiving station to view training sessions along with Denver fire fighters.

Cooling a tank is part of the training of fire fighters, who wear breathing equipment.

The arsenal replaced its motorized fire fighting equipment with new pumpers in 1956 and modified them to meet the arsenal’s specialized fire protection needs. They were equipped with modern tools and appliances, including portable light sets, exhaust fans, heavy-duty hydraulic jacks, foam eductors, a high expansion foam maker, and AC generators. All pumpers were radio-equipped.

Today, 66 sprinkler systems protect 37 major buildings. Deluge sprinkler systems with ultraviolet sensors protect extra-hazard areas, and the missile plant is covered by five deluge systems. Eleven heat detector systems and three smoke detector systems are additional protection.

Water system improved

After fire-flow tests made by the fire department were evaluated, new water mains were installed where needed, and today fire flows are more than adequate for risks. Hydrants are color-coded in accordance with recommendations of NFPA 291. Twenty stationary turret nozzles were installed in a high-risk production area and were backed up by a 1,500-gpm stationary fire pump. Fire extinguishers were located in accordance with NFPA standards and the fire alarm system was extensively modernized.

A first step in the reorganization of the inspection program was to assign well-trained inspectors. Maximum use was made of inspection manuals, codes and guidelines. Follow-up inspections by fire department officers became a way of life. Company inspections provided additional coverage as well as valuable training.

A comprehensive fire regulation was written, leaning heavily upon NFPA guidance. A hot work permit system was established, giving the fire department absolute control over hazardous welding operations. All-heat producing electrical devices are inspected by both the fire and electrical departments, and cannot be used without permission of both. The fire chief exerts strict control over the handling and storage of flammable liquids.

The fire chief reviews all new building or facility designs, as well as ail operational procedures, to ensure adequate fire protection and fire safety.

Assist fire chief

Fire marshals have been appointed in each major operating area. Their duties include keeping the fire chief posted concerning fire safety in their areas and scheduling fire prevention training and fire evacuation drills for their personnel.

A fire prevention publicity program has paid untold dividends. Every available means of reaching the public is used. News articles, roadside and building signs and displays, bulletin boards, movies, talks and demonstrations have all been attention getters. An employee cannot help but know when Fire Prevention Week or Spring Cleanup Month occurs, for he is bombarded with publicity and displays. Holiday fire safety and seasonal fire hazards also are emphasized.

Education . . . engineering … enforcement. With the sweat and toil implied by these three key words, Rocky Mountain Arsenal has literally pulled itself up by its bootstraps. Added to the three key words has to be a fourth: effort. Effort—the continuing force for self-improvement by an Army installation with a determined fire department in the lead has accomplished the seemingly impossible.


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