Handling Chemical Fire Through ICE What to Do in the Case of Chemical Fires?

Editor: Dominik Stephan

What should one do in case of a chemical fire? Big companies have internal fire departments and are often well prepared for chemical accidents, with specialized equipment and trained professionals. But what can smaller firms or local firefighters do? Learn how the International Chemical Environment (ICE) offers professional support, from consulting to the dispatch of specialized task forces in case of a fire in hazardous environments...

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... like sparying a protective foam.
... like sparying a protective foam.
(Picture: PROCESS)

Seagulls circulate over the container terminal at Dow’s production site in Terneuzen, the Netherlands. The rolling waves form a sonorous backbeat for the harbor noises and the smell of diesel mixes with the salty spray. But not all is quiet on the western waterfront. A seemingly harmless dripping disturbs the scenery. From a valve at a container leeks a colorless liquid, fine vapor trails fill the air. Suddenly wailing sirens are heard, as firefighters arrive on the scene.

Working together: Private fire brigades from the chemical industry are often highly trained professionals, well equipped for accidents with hazardous substances. Here, Dutch firefighters cooperate with professionals from Dow’s company fire department.
Working together: Private fire brigades from the chemical industry are often highly trained professionals, well equipped for accidents with hazardous substances. Here, Dutch firefighters cooperate with professionals from Dow’s company fire department.
(Picture: PROCESS)

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Leaking containers, burning chemicals or a spill of substances that are explosive, corrosive or harmful to the environment— accidents with hazardous cargo and chemical fires are a much feared scenario for ports and harbors. With cheap freight rates and a safe and secure transport, cargo ships account for the bulk of international freight transports. In 2008, for example, it is estimated that the industry transported over 7.7 thousand million tonnes of cargo, equivalent to a total volume of world trade by sea of over 32 thousand billion tonne-miles, the nautical transport agency Shipping Facts states. What can small companies do in case of chemical accidents?

Big Chemical Companies Well Equipped – Amller Firms Lack Expertise

Big chemical companies often have detailed emergency plans as well as trained professionals on site with specialized equipment. But what can smaller firms, freight haulers or public fire brigades that usually have to deal with house fires of traffic accidents, do in case hazardous goods are involved in an incident?

To help local emergency response authorities to undertake the right countermeasures, the European Chemical Industry Council–CEFIC launched the International Chemical Environment (ICE) program. Now, local firefighters, paramedics or police forces can ask specialists from the industry for help. And what seems like a dangerous chemical accident at Terneuzen is actually a fire drill of local fire brigades

together with specialists from Dow... more on page 2!

Under the ICE – Three Steps for Chemical Accidents

Meanwhile, the harbor master has lead the local fire brigade to the scene of the incident - but this case calls for specialists: A warning table on the side of the container tank informs the firemen that this substance is Ethylenediamine or EDA, a corrosive and inflammable basic amine. When a chemical substance or other hazardous cargo is out of control, the ICE program provides three steps of help for

local authorities:

  • Specialized Information and support via telephone
  • Support from a trained consultant at the site of accident
  • Support by one or several private company fire brigades with specialized equipment for chemical accidents

The damaged valve is tightened with a soft wood block — if the wood gets wet, it expands, sealing off the valve tightly.
The damaged valve is tightened with a soft wood block — if the wood gets wet, it expands, sealing off the valve tightly.
(Picture: PROCESS)

Often, company fire brigades are highly trained specialists that have access to specialized equipment for handling hazardous goods. Therefore, while the local fire brigade starts first protective containment measures like spraying a foam carpet, Dow’s company fire brigade at the nearby Terneuzen chemical park sent over a task force to assist.

Coordination, Support and Help with Hazardous Goods

In the ICE program, help is coordinated from local emergency coordinating centers mostly at the headquarters of big company fire brigades. From here, specialized fire fighting professionals offer first telephonic support and decide whether to dispatch a consultant or an emergency team to the site of the accident. “We would like to see fire brigades calling us more often,” explains Macco Korteweg Maris of the Dutch chemical association, VNCI. “But sometimes curiosity about the unusual situation or over–ambition prevents the first aiders from calling for help.”

Well prepared for chemical accidents Dow’s company fire brigade at Terneuzen is well prepared for incidents like the aforementioned. With specialized equipment and firemen trained in the handling of hazardous substances, a company fire truck arrives at the scene. Equipped with chemical proof protective gear and splash suits, two firemen approach the container, while a colleague of the local fire brigade nearby keeps watch with a foam gun to extinguish any possible fire. Then everything with the simulation goes fast: The firemen hammer a plug made of soft wood into the damaged valve head. As the wood gets wet, it expands, sealing the dripping valve tightly. Mission accomplished: Working together, the team of public and private firefighters were able to defuse the dangerous situation.

"Safety has become cross border task," Rolf Haselhorst, Chairman of the TUIS workgroup at the VCI and head of BASF's company fire brigade at Ludwigshafen, underlines the international approach of TUIS, ICE and Belintra.
"Safety has become cross border task," Rolf Haselhorst, Chairman of the TUIS workgroup at the VCI and head of BASF's company fire brigade at Ludwigshafen, underlines the international approach of TUIS, ICE and Belintra.
(Picture: PROCESS)

Chemical Fires and Explosion Protection

The ICE program is closely connected to the German/Austrian TUIS and the Belgian BELINTRA system. “Safety has become a cross border task,” underlines Chairman, TUIS workgroup, VCI and Head – Fire Brigade, BASF, Ludwigshafen, Rolf Haselhorst. Emergency Service & Security Leader, Dow Europe, Gunther Schiefer Goodwin agreeing with that sentiment says, “We have one currency, but we do not have one language.”

Therefore, under the ICE program, help and guidelines for the treatment of hazardous chemicals are available in 30 languages with local telephone hotlines. The ERI cards of chemical association, Cefic, provide information in 16 languages (including five major Asian languages) for onsite first measures for local authorities and emergency response crews.

Joining Hands gets the Job Done

Working together gets the required results—fast, professional and across European borders.

For the future, Korteweg Maris would love to see more public private partnerships, like in the Dutch port of Rotterdam where eight fire stations with 165 full time firefighters are funded by private companies and the Dutch state, providing safety and security for 100 Seveso companies as well as thousands of local residents and workers.

Under the international ICE programme, public firefighters, paramedics or police forces can call upon specialists from the chmical industry when hazardous goods accidents with chemical goods occur, explains Macco Korteweg Maris of the Dutch chemical association VNCI. He calls for more public private partnerships
Under the international ICE programme, public firefighters, paramedics or police forces can call upon specialists from the chmical industry when hazardous goods accidents with chemical goods occur, explains Macco Korteweg Maris of the Dutch chemical association VNCI. He calls for more public private partnerships
(Picture: PROCESS)

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