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April 14, 2010

Those who cannot learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.” - George Santayana

Sometimes, usually not because of good news, I have the need to go back and recycle from my previous articles. In 2006 I wrote this review of two silo incidents in Ohio:

Firefighters from two neighbouring rural fire departments responded to a fire in an oxygen-limiting grain silo. As water was being applied into openings at the top of the silo by firefighters on aerial platforms, the silo exploded. The two firefighters on the platforms were killed. Is it reasonable to expect rural firefighters to know and understand the correct methods of fighting such a fire? Hell, yes, it is. It is incumbent on every fire department to identify the unique hazards in their response areas and to have a very good idea of what to do in the event of a response to those hazards. Volunteer or not, if there is a silo in your response area you had better know what to do if it catches on fire. Is this information hard to find? Hell, no, it ain’t. A NIOSH report on a similar incident in 1985 lays out exactly what the dangers are and what procedures to follow at silo fires. That incident resulted in the deaths of three firefighters. Any degree of community risk assessment and incident action planning would have prevented the 2003 re-occurrence.

April 13, 2010
By Peter Sells

Topics

Some sample quotes from the
2003 incident:

“Until the blast, it was a
routine fire.”

"There
was an unknown element that we haven’t figured out yet.’’

If it weren’t for the
deaths of the firefighters, the Yogi Berra nature of these quotes would be
funny instead of tragic.

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Well, apparently you can't teach a new dog old
tricks. This past weekend, in rural New YorkState, a 26 year
old assistant fire chief, who had just been promoted last week, was killed in a
silo fire explosion. As always, I will wait until all the facts are in and
always give the incident commander the benefit of doubt in the interim, but the
news stories indicate that he had been operating “near the top” of the silo
when the explosion occurred. Guidelines published and readily available from
NIOSH (as noted above), the US Fire Administration and agricultural industry
sources across North America and Europe all note the danger of opening a silo above the fire. Here, take your
pick of these for starters:

www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face8549.html

www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face200332.html

www.usfa.dhs.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/tr-096.pdf

It
shouldn't matter that the latest victim was young or new in his position. As I
said in the 2006 snippet above, it is incumbent on every fire
department to identify the unique hazards in their response areas and to have a
very good idea of what to do in the event of a response to those hazards.
Regardless of that, the standard risk management plan always applies:

  • We will risk our lives a lot, in a calculated manner, to
    save SAVABLE lives.
  • We will risk our lives
    a little, in a calculated manner, to save SAVABLE property.
  • We will not risk our lives at all for
    lives or property that are already lost.

If this happens again I will be frustrated, angry and
disappointed, again. If we ain't gonna admit sumthin' is broke here, how are we
gonna fix it?

So weigh in on this please. I know this blog is being viewed
– I would like to get more feedback. Were you aware of the dangers of fighting
silo fires? If not, and if you have these structures in your response area,
what does this indicate about your community risk assessment?

 


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