Dealing with chemical accidents at fixed facilities

Published:  13 October, 2014

The US Chemical Safety Board seeks clarification in the Emergency Response Guidebook.

The CSB is recommending critical safety improvements to the widely-used Emergency Response Guidebook published by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) for emergency responders to use when confronting chemical fires, explosions and releases of hazardous materials.

The CSB notes that while the manual is provided for responders to use in transportation incidents, CSB investigators have found over the years that the guidebook is often used by emergency responders – firefighters, medical technicians and police officers - dealing with chemical accidents at fixed facilities.

However, the CSB found some of the directions given in the manual are vague.  The CSB document specifically cites guidebook changes needed for handling ammonium nitrate fires such as the one that led to a massive explosion at a fertilizer storage facility in West, Texas last year. 

The CSB recommendations are contained in a seven-page response to a formal Request for Information (RFI) the transportation department issued as it seeks comment on a proposed revision issued on August 29, 2014, an edition scheduled for public release in 2016. The current guidebook was released in 2012.

The guidebook – jointly produced with Canada and Mexico and in use in those countries as well – is used across the country by emergency responders who can quickly look up correct responses to a myriad of chemical accidents.  The department’s website states that “DOT's goal is to place an ERG in every emergency service vehicle nationwide.”

CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “We have respectfully submitted our comments to the DOT, based on years of our incident investigations, which show that responders are often not aware that this important manual is intended only for responding to chemical releases or fire incidents in transportation accidents, such as railroad tankers or truck-hauled containers, and not fixed facilities.  Directions on how to respond to incidents at fixed chemical or manufacturing facilities may be much different.”

The CSB proposed that the Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) place a cautionary note at the front of the manual – rather than on page 356 where it is now – to read, in capital letters, “Only intended for use when responding to transportation incidents.”

CSB Investigation Team Lead Johnnie Banks noted, “The CSB recommended the ERG include additional guidance on where responders can find chemical hazard information in responding to incidents at fixed facilities, such as Material Safety Data Sheets or EPA-required ‘Tier 2’ information which specifies the chemicals on hand at facilities. We feel responders need to know where to go for data quickly in the heat of battle.”

The CSB found what investigators called “vague or poorly defined terms” in the proposed new guidelines.  Where firefighters are told, for instance, to “fight fire from maximum distance,” the CSB recommended DOT specify the distance so firefighters are not left to guess what “maximum” means.

The CSB noted the catastrophic explosion at West Fertilizer resulted in 15 fatalities and over 250 injuries, and that twelve first responders perished which fighting the blaze when the storage facility exploded.  The CSB reviewed the DOT guidance in the ERG for ammonium nitrate fertilizer, classified as an oxidizer. Within Guide 140 for a large fire, the guidance states “Flood fire with water from a distance.”  In the case of an ammonium nitrate fire similar to West Fertilizer, the CSB response to DOT notes that “flooding the fire with water from an undefined distance could result in serious injuries or fatalities if the ammonium nitrate detonated.”

The CSB RFI response addresses in detail the need for additional language in DOT guidance regarding ammonium nitrate fertilizer to consider its “unpredictable and explosive nature” and the “potential for detonation within a very short time frame.” 

  • Operation Florian

Sign up: eMagazine & eNewsletter

The latest issues in your inbox.

Company Profiles

Renka´s Fire Engine No. 1

Firefighting, fast, safe, everywhere. Michael Renka GmbH, based in Germany, is a manufacturer of firefighting vehicles, pumps and rescue equipment.

Waterax - We move water

Trusted by wildland firefighters around the world, WATERAX sets the industry standard by developing innovative, portable fire pumps and water-handling equipment designed to withstand demanding applications and rugged environments.

Big Water Flow for Industrial and Municipal Firefighting Applications

Protecting the lives of the public and firefighters while limiting the structural damage caused in large scale fires is our primary mission

We are committed to improving lives and doing business in the right way

We have a unique mix of capability and culture that we refer to as 3M Science and we strive to develop products that improve people’s daily lives in a multitude of ways.

HazSim - Bringing situational HazMat training to life

HazSim, LLC provides innovative simulation training to ensure your team works safely and effectively. HazSim Pro simulation equipment is in use by hundreds of fire departments, training schools, industrial fire teams, and private trainers across the US, Canada and further afield as well as the US Army.

The ultimate in innovation, quality and service

For 60 years Lehavot has been delivering the world’s most advanced fire detection and suppression automatic systems

Advancing rescue technology

The specialist supplier of quality PPE and Rescue Equipment to Emergency Services.

Revolutionizing fire fighting foam technology

The one-stop resource for fire fighting foam concentrates and custom-designed foam suppression systems hardware.

Trust the best, let us be your foam solution

AUXQUIMIA is a Spanish company whose main activity is the design, manufacture and commercialization of firefighting foam concentrates.

Williams Fire & Hazard Control offers a full line of specialized fire response equipment for oil and gas platforms

From storage tanks and pipeline emergencies to offshore platforms and vessels at sea, Williams' response personnel and specialized equipment quickly address adverse fire emergencies.

The leader in truck-mounted hydraulic platforms

Our mission is to provide the best and the safest solution to professionals that work at height.

If you want quality, you want Zico

Since its inception Ziamatic Corp has provided the men and women of the fire service with products designed to make their jobs safer and easier.

The independent alternative

Dafo Fomtec AB is a privately owned company with head office in Stockholm Sweden and manufacturing in Helsingborg in the south of Sweden.