Published: 01 April, 2006
A European perspective on tunnel emergencies:
The Dutch Fire Department of Terneuzen boasts one of the safest road tunnels in Europe, despite being on a major European trucking route that connects Belgium and France to The Netherlands.
The Westerschelde Tunnel was built to provide an economical development zone between cities such as Rotterdam, Vlissingen, Ghent, Lille and Calais. Before the tunnel was built the area relied on ferries to cross the River Schelde, the shipping route to Antwerp.
The tunnel opened in 2003 and is accessible for all traffic, excluding bulk transporters that carry LPG, radioactive materials and explosives. It is the longest road tunnel (6.6 km) in the Netherlands and has been dug at the same depth as the Channel Tunnel, at 60 metres below the seabed. Safety had the highest priority during the design stage, this is why it consists of two separate tubes, with two lanes each. This eliminates any chance of traffic colliding.
Every 250 metres an emergency crossover has been provided to the other tube. Clearly lit emergency points with an extinguisher, fire hydrant, fire hose and intercom are enabling direct contact with the tunnel operator. These points have been installed at every 50 metres. Additionally there are so-called ‘smart’ PPV fans built into its superstructure. The operator keeps the tunnel under constant surveillance assisted by the latest technology, such as cameras, detection systems and traffic monitoring systems.
The Terneuzen Fire Department was presented with a new challenge when the tunnel was opened in 2003. The department was already used to dealing with incidents in the oil and chemical industry because there were already several highrisk facilities based in the area.
“We share responsibility with the Borsele Fire Department on the other end of the tunnel. We set up an incident command structure with several extinguishing teams for the South end of the tunnel. We operate out of Terneuzen, Sluiskil and Mauritsford. Borsele set up three other teams for the North side. “In total the team comprises 130 people, 15 officers and 115 firefighters,” Eric Dieleman, preparation officer for the brigade comments.
Eric is the fire team leader for the Westerschelde tunnel. Together with Borsele, his brigade developed a multi-disciplinary emergency plan, which means that police, fire service, the councils of Terneuzen and Borsele and the tunnel’s holding company, NV Westerschelde Tunnel, are all involved. The co-operation between the two Councils has been agreed in a special covenant.
The fire service had to acquire six new vehicles especially for incident response in the tunnel. “We bought two rapid intervention vehicles, each equipped with a special winch to pull smaller cars out of the way in case of an RTA. We also bought two foam vehicles with Compressed Air Foam Systems, and two emergency response vehicles, which are equipped with extra heavy hydraulic rescue tools to comply with the HV1 classification.
“We also acquired two telemetric thermal imaging cameras, a multi-container and extra emergency response equipment and 18 new sets of breathing apparatus for extended-time duration.”
At every emergency point in the tunnel there is also a fire engine hydrant with a foam monitor. The deepest part of the tunnel basins have been equipped with a foam injection monitor designed to channel the firewater. In addition to water, the brigade uses AFFF foam and on the vehicles there are powder extinguishers.
HAZMAT response teams:
In most cases the team follows standard Dutch procedures for HAZMAT accidents. “We have slightly adapted these,” reports Eric. “This concerns ventilation on the steeper parts of both the ramp and road. We have been operational as a HAZMAT Suit Incident Response team since December 2005. Our team can organise a HAZMAT response in less than 15 minutes. In normal emergency response in The Netherlands this takes at least 45 minutes to half an hour.” Before the opening of the tunnel on the March 14th, 2003, everyone involved was trained in the procedures for tunnel emergencies. Eric commissioned two models of the tunnel. He did not opt for virtual reality training, because he reckons that
“We bought two rapid intervention vehicles, each equipped with a special winch to pull smaller cars out of the way in case of an RTA. We also bought two foam vehicles with Compressed Air Foam Systems.” Eric Dieleman, fire team leader, Westerschelde Tunnel.
The available money would be better spent on ‘hands-on’ training. “We had two days of training in Switzerland with Versugs Stollen Hagerbach in Sagans. This training centre specialises in tunnel incidents. In addition to this, we organised real life practice with instructors from the Fire Department of St Gallen. They taught us the basics of tunnel firefighting.”
The Kent Fire & Rescue approach:
Graham Gash is Group Manager of Operations for the Kent Fire and Rescue Service, just like the Terneuzen Fire Brigade, the area where KFRS operates is an important economic link in Europe, as almost all road and rail transport to the mainland passes through Kent. Graham plays a very important role, as he is the CTRL liaison officer for section of the new Channel Tunnel link. “Having previously been project manager during its construction, I am now the project manager for section two of the CTRL project, which takes the railway from its connection with section one at Gravesend through Ebbsfleet station and then through the Thames Tunnels in to Essex and eventually London,” he explains.
In addition, Graham is also a member of an international board on tunnel firefighting. He is the KFRS representative for the European Fire Services Tunnel Group, which meets twice yearly to discuss tunnel design, operational considerations and exchange experiences regarding any operational incidents. Members include people from the UK, Southern Ireland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Holland and France.
Graham has two main road tunnels and two main rail tunnels under his supervision. He is involved with the Le Crossing-Dartford tunnels, a 1.4 kilometre twin-bore tunnel and the A289 Medway Tunnels which are 725 metres twin bore tunnels.
“As with all tunnels, access is the main problem. With both of these road tunnels we have operational plans which state that appliances will enter the ‘non-incident tunnel’ and thus, work from a safe haven. The Dartford tunnels have a fully-manned control room and we are fully reliant on the specialist knowledge and assistance of Le Crossing staff for specialist advice, for escort duties and to operate or reconfigure the ventilation system, etc.” The Medway Tunnel is only half the length and does not have a manned control room. There are manual override control facilities for the jet fan system at each entrance portal so the Fire and
“In the main, the problems experienced are due to access difficulties, high thermal output from the fire which result in untenable conditions due to high ambient temperatures, smoke logging and, the potential for the uncontrolled movement of the ‘smoke plug’.”
Graham Gash, Group Manager of Operations, Kent Fire and Rescue Service Fire tests in the Virgilo Tunnel in Bolzano, Italy [Pic:Fog-Tec International] Rescue staff can take local control of, reconfigure or stop the ventilation system.
The railway tunnels he has under his jurisdiction are Channel Tunnel Rail Link Section one and two; one is a three-kilometre long single bore twin track and Section two a twin bore single track.
Graham explains that the NDT are not unique constructions. “Many rail tunnels of this design present us with operational challenges because there are only two intervention points which are the tunnel entrance portals.
“Being a single tunnel, there are no safe havens other than the open air at each end of the tunnel. Intervention could therefore be limited. The Thames Tunnels have an intervention shaft at either end of the tunnel and three cross passages at 670 metre intervals. The cross passages (CP) are approximately 8m long and have a set of 75 minute fire-resisting (FR) double swing doors at each end of the CP, making a total FR between the two tunnels of two and a half hours.
“The tunnel is fitted with a Saccardo longitudinal ventilation system with injector nozzles inside of each tunnel entrance portal. This enables ventilation in the direction of the train travel in the incident tunnel. The non-incident tunnel can be pressurised to aid evacuation and to assist in firefighting. Once again, crews will enter the nonincident tunnel and make an intervention into the incident tunnel via the CPs. A fire main is provided in both the NDT & the TTs.”
Unlike the Terneuzen Fire Department, KFRS didn’t acquire any special vehicles or equipment for emergencies in these tunnels. However, they are considering CAFFS unit for a future generation of appliances. The majority of the services’ pumping appliances have and in built foam system and carry AFFF foams onboard, Their foam unit carries Film Forming Fluoroprotein Foam onboard and all appliances have a multiclass dry powder extinguisher.
Drills and exercises:Other than those serving within the channel tunnel, KFRS fire fighters receive no specialist training for tunnel firefighting. They do carry out drills and exercises at some tunnel risks to become conversant with the characteristics of the tunnel, any fixed systems provided and the emergency planning arrangements.
All personnel are given awareness training of the tunnels in their area and, are aware of the operational plans in place for dealing with an incident. Graham comments: “We do not have any specific tunnel firefighting training facilities. Firefighters working at the Channel Tunnel fire station do have some dedicated training due to the specialist nature of that workplace. We have a predetermined attendance (PDA) to all risks within the County of Kent, which includes the Dartford Tunnel.”
Crews report to the tunnel control centre and are then escorted by Le Crossing staff to the scene of operations in line with the established multiagency emergency plan (MAEP). The MAEP is regularly validated, annually reviewed and amended following any review where changes are noted/deemed to be required. The Le Crossing control room becomes the control centre for all incidents and the Incident Commanders from all agencies go to this location and command the incident. All partners work together to resolve the incident. A KFRS Operations Commander (Forward Commander) will go with the crews entering into the non-incident tunnel. All incidents in the Dartford Tunnels or on the QE2 Bridge are joint operation with Essex County F&RS.
In conclusion Graham adds that all tunnel incidents present different operational challenges. “In the main, the problems experienced are due to access difficulties, high thermal output from the fire which result in untenable conditions due to highambient temperatures (1,000* Celsius is not uncommon), smoke logging and, the potential for the uncontrolled movement of the ‘smoke plug’. Due to these conditions, the duration of BA sets can be significantly be reduced making such an incident resource-hungry! “Firefighters, although trained,cannot withstand these untenable conditions for long periods and have to be relieved on a frequent basis. This could be as frequent as every fifteen to twenty minutes.”