Practice makes perfect

Agrium, Nikiski firefighters team up for training

Posted: Thursday, September 06, 2007


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  Agrium's Rick Warren watches as Nikiski Fire Department firefighter Rick Monyahan extinguishes flames on a training device behind the company's Nikiski fertilizer plant earlier this week. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Monyahan, Battalion Chief Trent Burnett, Engineer/Paramedic Jim Hoyt and Senior Captain Craig Ralston (partially obscured) listen as Warren describes techniques Agrium practices to secure unmanned fire hoses.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"Engine respond. Engine respond."

In firefighter parlance the words mean danger.

Someone has spotted smoke; someone saw flames; or someone has reported a fire.

Thanks to the type of training being conducted this week at Agrium's fertilizer plant, however, members of the Nikiski Fire Department will be better prepared to face the danger should fire break out at one of the industrial concerns such as that dotting the North Road.

The extent of damage and the chance of a responding firefighter being injured will be lessened as well.

"By training together, we get to know the Agrium people and if we're teamed up in an actual response, we can anticipate the other's moves and not have an injury," said Greg Hyatt, one of six Nikiski firefighters participating in live-fire exercises at Agrium on Tuesday.


Agrium's Rick Warren watches as Nikiski Fire Department firefighter Rick Monyahan extinguishes flames on a training device behind the company's Nikiski fertilizer plant earlier this week.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Under the guidance of Rick Warren, Agrium's emergency preparedness and response coordinator, Battalion Chief Trent Burnett, Hyatt, Jay Morrison, Jim Hoyt, Craig Ralston and Rick Monyahan donned full bunker gear and helmets and set to work battling intentionally set fires at the plant's training area at the northwest corner of the property.

The Nikiski crew, which was actually on shift at the time, arrived at the plant with one fire engine, a rescue truck, a medical unit and a command vehicle.

Before heading outside of a training trailer to the training area, Warren briefed the firefighters on the types of exercises they would be doing, what equipment they would use, plant safety procedures and what they would need to do should an actual emergency siren sound while training was ongoing.

"The first thing we'll need to do is get water to the engine with our 5-inch line," Warren said, setting the exercise in motion with two firefighters heading out to route the plant's fire-fighting water supply through the Nikiski department's fire truck.

Warren reminded the firefighters that when fighting a flammable liquids fire, it is usually best to cool the involved structure, then find and control the source of the fuel prior to extinguishing the flames.

"Otherwise you have fuel spilling from the (unidentified) source," Warren said. "You know that's something you don't want. It will find a source of ignition, and when it ignites, it will ignite from an explosion."

The practice area was set up with towers, oil drums, stairways and railings similar to those that might be found in a chemicals plant or refinery, though not nearly as tall as the 20-story structures that dominate Agrium's skyline.

The first concern of responding firefighters is to cool the structures to prevent metal structure failure, according to Hyatt.

Warren taught the firefighters to tie turbo-jet hose nozzles to stairways or hand railings, aiming the water streams at the flaming structures and freeing up the crew to move in with other water lines for added cooling.

Other training involved the use of dry chemical extinguishers to put out gasoline and diesel fires lit by Warren.

With a good steady northeast wind blowing on Tuesday, Warren advised the Nikiski crew to keep the wind to their backs and learn to use the wind to their advantage when moving in to extinguish the flames.

When asked if Nikiski ever used the Pacific Rim Institute of Safety and Management fire training facility in Kenai, Nikiski Fire Chief Dan Gregory said although the facility offers excellent training, by not having it within Nikiski's fire service area, he would need to send an off-shift crew there for training while another crew remained on duty in Nikiski.

"It's out of our area," Gregory said. "That means overtime."

By working with Agrium, the training can be done while firefighters are on shift and while they are actually present in Nikiski.

"We've been doing fire training and emergency response with them for about 25 years," said Hyatt.

He said plant personnel at Agrium respond initially to fires and medical emergencies, and Nikiski responders can take over when they arrive on scene, allowing Agrium workers to handle their own jobs.

"Our round-the-clock operations staff is trained for fire problems," said Warren. "We also have backup administration staff and maintenance people trained. On shift, at any one time, there are 18 to 24 people and approximately one-third can provide initial response to fire and (hazardous material) emergencies."

Plant employees also are trained in rope rescue, confined space rescue and as medical first responders, he said.

The Agrium plant is equipped with mobile trailers that carry a fully self-sustained Hazmat response unit, an Automated External Defibrillator and rope rescue equipment, in addition to two hose trucks and 16,000 feet of fire hose. The plant also has permanently mounted water turrets that can deliver 800 to 1,000 gallons per minute.

Warren said he has been working with Nikiski firefighters since 1990.

As he once again lit a gasoline-diesel fire, and with deep orange flames shooting 25 feet into the sky and thick, black smoke billowing above, a Nikiski firefighter moved in from upwind with a dry-chemical extinguisher.

Just as he nearly completed extinguishing the flames, though his device ran out of chemical.

Displaying an almost undetectable level of professionalism, a second Nikiski firefighter was at the ready, just a few steps behind the first, with a replacement extinguisher fully charged with chemical.

The fire had met its match.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at

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