Hoquiam firefighters spent Friday afternoon training with their chemical foam fire tender, built specifically to handle potential chemical fires and donated in 2009 when Westway Terminals first started building its massive liquid bulk storage facility.
Hoquiam Fire Capt. John Becker said that with recent discussions of shipping crude oil out of the Port of Grays Harbor, a potential expansion at Imperium Renewables and the use of Terminal 3 at the Port of Grays Harbor, the time was right to update everyone’s training with the fire apparatus.
It’s a piece of equipment that luckily has been hauled out to an emergency just once — in late 2009 when a 10,000-gallon glycerine tank exploded at Imperium Grays Harbor. The explosion rattled neighbors, but caused no injuries.
Hoquiam Fire Capt. Tim Davis and his crew responded to the blast and still remembers it well.
“There was hydrochloric acid on the ground, but, luckily no fires,” Davis said. “But this tender would have been there working just as well as it is today had there been a fire.”
Davis explains to his crew that if they used water on a chemical fire, it may make the problem even worse. But by using a foam, “it takes the fire out by taking away the oxygen. It settles over the fire, especially if it’s on the ground.”
“This would be like no other fire we’ve ever fought before,” one firefighter tells Davis.
“To knock out a fire, you need to eliminate either fuel, air or heat that make it and this would take away the oxygen,” Becker adds.
Once the fire is out, Becker said that firefighters would turn the scene over to emergency crews — the state Department of Ecology, most likely, or the U.S. Coast Guard if the fire spills into the Harbor. The firefighter training doesn’t account for cleaning up a giant spill, just containing it.
Davis went through training in Texas at Williams Fire and Hazard Control to learn how to use the foam and truck. He’s been teaching his fellow firefighters ever since.
Becker notes that the increased traffic at the Port of Grays Harbor has increased the chances that the tender may be needed one day, especially given the number of trains moving through the Harbor with chemicals ranging from kerosene to jet fuel or oil and the expanded storage that could be built.
As it happens, the Montesano Fire Department had some expired foam they no longer needed and donated it to the Hoquiam firefighters for their practice. The off-color foam looked more like gelatin and huge blending tools had to be used to mix it up into a usable substance.
After assembling a sprayer, the goo was mixed in via one tube with water that came in via another tube and had its pressure artificially lowered from 150 pounds per inch to 50 pounds per inch. The result was an intense spray and then a white-frothy foam that lingered for a while on the nearby abandoned pump station building on Endressen Road that was being used for practice. The foam then settled on the grass around the building.
Becker said that the foam was working the way it should, although if it had been newer, it likely would have stuck on the building longer.
Each tote of chemical foam fire retardant costs about $5,000, he said, which means it’s pretty rare that firefighters get to train with the actual foam, even if it is out-of-date and a bit discolored.
If the fire is still moving with foam on it, firefighters would then use a special fire extinguisher that sprays a purple potassium blast, Davis said, who notes that the extinguisher is also “pretty spendy” and they won’t practice with it unless faced with a real emergency.
The truck cost about $75,000, according to a 2009 Daily World story. It carries four of the totes on a flat bed and also has compartments for storing fire equipment.
Interested in potential crude by rail projects at the Port of Grays Harbor? The Port is hosting a forum on the subject Wednesday, Jan. 30, at the Rotary Log Pavilion in Aberdeen. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.