Within traditional commercial and industrial firefighting systems, engineers have primarily focused on permanent installation designs rather than entertaining alternative or supplemental mobile firefighting systems. Permanent installation design is typically better understood, supported, and supplied throughout the fire protection engineering and manufacturing community.

However, mobile firefighting systems provide unique solutions and advantages compared to their permanent installation cousins such as flexible deployment, simpler servicing, improved economy, and much higher performance availability. The combination of both systems is frequently the most strategic solution for the facility operator.

Limitations of fixed installation systems

Permanent installation (fixed) systems include everything from sprinklers, foam systems, primary watermain pumps, and the plethora of piping in between. A large refinery complex will need to address various hazard mitigation and control problems that span both hardware and personnel needs. In the event standard hazard mitigation safety procedures and equipment have failed, the facility immediately initiates a hazard control operation.

Passive fixed systems automatically engage the hazard through an array of sensors, mechanical triggers, and control algorithms. A properly designed system with adequate hazard coverage, preplanning, preventative maintenance, and testing will successfully terminate the hazard, while firefighting personnel respond and ensure no further hazards develop. This conceptual approach relies on hardware and personnel all operating as planned….

Combining permanent and mobile apparatus

According to plan” would never have any failures or fires, but history has a different script. In the worst-case petrochemical scenario, fixed systems fail to extinguish a hazard putting the entire response on human and mobile hardware resources. This would include but is not limited to firetrucks, mobile high-flow pumping systems, large mobile monitors, foam proportioning units, and large diameter layflat hose. This type of response escalates into a larger scale operation, sometimes involving agencies beyond the facility operator itself. Although a low probability event, the risk to life and property is significantly substantial. Fixed systems may be rendered inoperable due to the loss of electrical power or actual physical damage

Reducing fire-related expenditureMore typical than the worst-case scenario, facilities experience both maintenance-related system downtimes and natural phenomena damage such as extreme weather and seismic events. In this case, fixed systems may be rendered inoperable due to the loss of electrical power or actual physical damage.

In any of these situations, mobile fire apparatus may fill the gap requirements of the facility as their flexible storage and deployment would protect them from everything but the worst natural disasters. Their further benefit is that a smaller set of mobile apparatus resources may be used to protect a larger amount of infrastructure, especially while in use in a mutual-aid program between facilities and communities.

According to the NFPA’s report “Total Cost of Fire in the United States”, fire-related damages and expenditures from 1980 to 2014 have risen from roughly $200B (adjusted for inflation to 2014) to nearly $330B. The greatest expenditure is in fire safety costs in building construction, amounting to $57.4B. Although the overall losses per year as a ratio to protection expenditures has dropped by roughly 70% over the past 30 years, petrochemical facility losses have continued to rise over the same time.

, facilities experience both maintenance-related system downtimes and natural phenomena damage such as extreme weather and seismic events
In the worst-case petrochemical scenario, fixed systems fail to extinguish a hazard 

Petrochemical facility challenges

According to the NFPA, refineries or natural gas plants had reported an average of 228 fires or explosions per year through the 1990s. Furthering this data with Marsh’s “100 Largest Losses, 25th edition”, refinery losses have continually expanded throughout the last two decades with 11 of the top 20 largest losses of the past 40 years happening during or after the year 2000. Two primary drivers of this trend are the advanced age of petrochemical facilities and their staggering complexity.

As oil margins fall, upstream operational businesses are detrimentally affected by reduced investment in everything to new equipment, maintenance and passive safety systems. There is an observable correlation between a major oil price drop followed by upstream facility fire losses. Even with reduced investment and oil throughput growth rates, US refinery utilisation at the end 2017 was at 96.7%, the highest since 2005 (Marsh, The Impact of the Price of Oil). The short story is that systems and personnel are being asked to do more with less with each passing year.

Cost-effective mobile apparatus systems 

Mobile fire apparatus is generally more cost-effective to procure when using standardised designs and application methodology. They can access open water sources by either drafting (when in close proximity to the water) or using floating source pumps (for variable level or difficult access water sources). Mobile fire apparatus is generally more cost-effective to procure when using standardized designs and application methodology

With this open water access, they can provide significantly more water (upwards of 10,000 GPM or more per system if necessary) than any typical fixed fire pumping solution. Moreover, as their primary benefit, they are easy to move and deploy. This benefit allows them to be utilised at the point of hazard as needed while being easily accessible for service.

While fixed systems are installed at “every known” hazard and must be continually maintained to operate effectively, mobile systems may be used sitewide or across facilities. This flexibility reduces overall capital expenditure requirements and establishes a valuable primary and secondary firefighting system depending on the hazard and facility resources.

Combining fixed and mobile systems

Permanent installation fire suppression systems are a mainstay of modern day firefighting. They provide immediate passive response with little human intervention. However, as facility utilisation is pushed to maximum capacity while fixed systems continually age out without adequate replacement or maintenance, mobile systems will need to both fill the response gap and provide a final wall to total loss incidents.

The reality is that both fixed and mobile systems need to work together to provide the safest possible operation. Service and training requirements need to also be maintained to manage an adequate, or even better, exemplary response to hazard control incidents.

Managing major facility uptime requires continuous oversight and to drive hazard mitigation standards throughout the organisation, including executive management. A safe, reliable and fully-functional plant is also a profitable and cost-effective plant much like a healthy worker is a better worker. Protect your people and property and you will protecting your company’s future.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version

Author profile

In case you missed it

Technology Is Changing How We Plan For The Future Of Wildfires
Technology Is Changing How We Plan For The Future Of Wildfires

As we continue to settle into our new norm brought on by COVID-19, it’s become hard to imagine what the world will look like on the other side. If ever there were a clearer definition of a paradigm shift in the making, it’s this time. Yet, it’s not the only paradigm that has shifted in the last few years.  As the climate has continued to change, helping to create more fuel for wildfires, we’re experiencing compounding changes at a global scale. And, the light at the end of the tunnel for COVID-19 might just be another big fire season. Yet, this fire season will be different.  New ways to respond Although we’ll almost certainly continue to act as communities, helping each other through the next calamities, what’s clear is that we’re going to require new ways to respond. Knowing what we know now about natural disasters, like fires, floods, and hurricanes, as well as our current experience with a global pandemic, if we’ve learned nothing else it’s that we must begin to design for disaster.  Designing for disaster is about planning for the paradigm to shift once again This is not about designing for panic and fear. Rather, designing for disaster is about planning for the paradigm to shift once again. For instance, with the 2020 fire season right around the corner, now is a good time to start taking stock and creating plans for how to deal with it. Unlike the last few fire seasons, this one will be different.  According to the “Chief's Letter of Intent for Wildland Fire – 2020”, the US Fire Service will be changing its “fire management options during the COVID-19 pandemic across the board to adjust to this unprecedented challenge.” The objectives laid out in this letter are a reflection of the compounding change we’re seeing, which include “Minimize to the extent feasible COVID-19 exposure and transmission and smoke exposure to firefighters and communities”; “Commit resources only when there is a reasonable expectation of success in protecting life and critical property and infrastructure”; “Encourage innovation and the use of doctrine for local adaptations”; and “Develop methods for broad information sharing given changed conditions”, among others. Planning for uncertainty We must seek to protect lives by developing new ways to work together So, what can we do to plan for this uncertain future? In many ways, the answer is spelled out in this above-mentioned letter. We must seek to protect lives by developing new ways to work together, share information, and plan using innovative tools and methods. Just as we all collectively found Zoom as a great way to connect with our friends, family, and colleagues, during the COVID-19 shelter in place, we’ll begin to use other digital tools to get updates and communicate with emergency responders and the community at large. In fact, there are myriad tools in place, like Nextdoor, Neighbor, and even Facebook, that enable most of us to do this on a regular basis. Likewise, when it comes to planning and communication between first responders, whether they be firefighters, police, paramedics, or emergency management officials, new technologies abound, like Tablet Command, that enable first responders to connect and understand the common operational picture like never before. What’s more, as these technologies continue to scale, they will no doubt connect communities and emergency management personnel (as well as new data sources, like up-to-the-minute satellite imagery) in new ways that enable engagement and planning to occur way before an incident even occurs. In fact, as the world continues to rally around communicating in new ways, new entrants like Zonehaven, a startup based on San Francisco, are doing just this. Using a familiar Google Maps-style interface and data-driven approach to engage communities and first responders around evacuation planning, defensible space, right-of-way issues and neighborhood exercises, Zonehaven is focused on helping entire communities communicate and respond to disasters, like wildfires, even before the initial spark. Drive for change And it’s not just technology companies that are driving this change. In wildfire-prone communities, like San Mateo County, officials are bringing in new technologies, like Zonehaven and others, to “provide access to cutting-edge technology that allows emergency planners and local officials to better understand a community’s risk and help residents plan safe evacuation routes.” In essence, by supporting hyperlocal pre-planning, early detection, community collaboration and real-time detection/alerting, San Mateo County is actively redesigning how the county and all of its constituent services, from firefighters to police to emergency management and even parking control, are planning for a future where wildfires and other emergencies are more abundant and communities more engaged and informed.  As change continues to compound on itself, creating entirely new norms, it’s imperative that we don’t lose sight of what makes us human. We have the capacity to plan, communicate, innovate, and build tools meant to help us stay one step ahead of change. After all, the more things change, the more they’ll stay the same.

Fire Service Likely To Suffer As Government Finances Stumble Due To The COVID-19 Pandemic
Fire Service Likely To Suffer As Government Finances Stumble Due To The COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic presents new economic challenges to county and municipal governments. Fire departments are likely to be impacted as local governments respond to the economic downturn with spending freezes, hiring freezes and spending cuts. Some local governments are hoping for help from the state and/or federal level. Although some governments have “rainy day funds” to address economic downturns, not all of them do. Furthermore, the extent of the current economic crisis may exceed our worst fears. Proposed budget cuts for some fire and EMS departments are in the 10% to 25% range. As the new fiscal year begins in July, many local governments will need to approve a spending plan for next year by June 30. public safety agencies Although public safety agencies have historically been protected by local governments during economic downturns, the severity of the current downturn may change the approach. Lower sales tax collection is expected to be a major impact, although actual information on revenue levels can lag for three months because state governments collect the taxes and then return a share to cities and counties. The Southern California city is like many others around the United States that rely on sales tax and hotel taxes For many, the numbers for April will be available in July. For example, Hemet, California, estimates it has lost 34% of its sales tax revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic because consumer spending is down, and many businesses are closed to the public. Loss of hotel taxes is another hardship. The Southern California city is like many others around the United States that rely on sales tax and hotel taxes. replacing ageing fire engines The League of California Cities says COVID-19 will rob the state’s 482 cities and towns of about $6.7 billion in revenue over the next two fiscal years. Michael Pagano, Director of the Government Finance Research Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says that municipalities that depend on sales tax revenue are being hit hard and quickly. In contrast, those that rely on property taxes will not feel an immediate impact, he says. The fire service in Hemet is being affected. Last year, the city paid $1 million in overtime. Belt-tightening will eliminate such expenditures this year. The city will also likely delay filling some open positions and will replace only one aging fire engine rather than two. They will be buying less safety and radio gear. Victoria, Texas, is another city among the many feeling the impact of lost sales tax revenue. fire fighter unions “It’s not an option for people to not get their trash picked up,” Victoria City Manager Jesus Garza told the Victoria Advocate. “It’s not an option for our police and firefighters to not work." With no definite end in sight, there are no easy solutions. Some scenarios, such as a salary freeze, would impact members of fire fighter unions. The president of the Baltimore’s International Association of Fire Fighters Local 734 says such discussions are premature. We know that the city has to balance their budget by July and that everyone is being hit hard by this global pandemic" “We know that the city has to balance their budget by July and that everyone is being hit hard by this global pandemic,” Richard Altieri II, president of the local fire fighters union, told the Baltimore Sun. “But to suggest this sacrifice of our members, who are on the front lines every day, is unacceptable and disheartening.” Baltimore has considered about $11 million in total reductions that may affect first responders. Coronavirus Relief Package California Gov. Gavin Newsom has warned that layoffs for police and firefighters could happen unless Washington provides financial help to state governments. The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package that included $875 billion in state and federal aid. However, the Democratic-authored bill is going nowhere in the U.S. Senate. “[There will be] fewer firefighters and police officers to answer emergency calls, reduced garbage pickup frequency, and limited staff for required inspections, processing business license, and permitting,” Nicolas Romo, a League of California Cities representative, told the Sacramento Bee.

IAFC Promotes Awareness Of The Danger Of Heart Attacks
IAFC Promotes Awareness Of The Danger Of Heart Attacks

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) is promoting awareness of the danger of heart attacks in the fire service. A toolkit provided by the IAFC includes information and resources to assist members and fire departments when responding to on-duty or duty-related cardiac events. The international campaign, titled ‘If You Don’t Feel Well, Don’t Make It Your Farewell,’ offers standard operating procedures (SOPs) including an example policy that departments can use to outline their actions and processes, and the department’s response to on-duty injuries and illness. Acute coronary syndrome An administrative checklist enumerates areas of concern and highlights a standardized approach to cardiac events. It is important to be proactive and put thoughtful guiding documents in place so that members of an organization know the ‘rules of the game.’ Existence of proper processes, policies and procedures can reduce stress, improve morale, and encourage members to speak up when they experience an event of if they know someone who does. The most common warning sign for men and women is chest pain or discomfort Among the training tools is a PDF that lists ‘the heart attack warning signs.’ The most common warning sign for men and women is chest pain or discomfort, but a heart attack may not be sudden or very painful. Information is also provided on ‘acute coronary syndrome,’ a term used to describe conditions associated with sudden, reduced blood flow to the heart. There is also information on treatments for a heart attack, which may vary according to the type of heart attack (i.e., whether a complete or partial blockage of a coronary artery). Identifying risk factors Other information includes ‘assessing cardiovascular risk’ and screening to identify risk factors and lifestyle habits that can increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease. A survey by the IAFC of firefighters who have experienced a cardiac incident provides interesting insights: 47% of firefighters said they experienced a symptom that is not among the typical signs of a heart attack. 20.67% of firefighters took themselves to the hospital; 41% were taken by emergency medical services. 63.3% of firefighters returned to work (full duty). 40% were between the ages of 46 and 55. 68% were career firefighters; 22.67% were volunteer firefighters. “Almost half of all firefighter deaths each year are cardiac-related,” says Fire Chief Gary Ludwig, IAFC President and Chairman of the Board. “Many who have experienced but survived a cardiac incident have reported not feeling right, not feeling well, or that something is wrong,” added Ludwig, fire chief of the Champaign (Illinois) Fire Department.  Changing a culture “The best way to change the culture of ignoring warning signs, which are not always chest tightness and shortness of breath, is through education and awareness. If you’re a first responder and your body is signaling to you a feeling that you have never experienced before with extreme fatigue and other symptoms, you need to act and those around you need to act,” said Ludwig, who has worked in the fire and emergency service for more than 42 years. “If a firefighter tells you ‘something is wrong’ or ‘I don’t feel right’ or any similar statement, do not tell them to go home or lay down in the bunk hall. Their body is sending them a signal that something could be seriously wrong.”

vfd