The Pacific Rim Institute of Safety Management in Kenai has a new tool to help firefighters battle industrial blazes. Called an industrial outside prop, the amalgamation of pipes and vessels is designed to simulate fire emergencies at heavy industrial sites, such as oil and gas refineries and wells.
"It is large and hot," said PRISM director Dave Burnett. "It really gets hot."
The prop has mock-ups of oil tanks boiling over, air-tight gas cylinders and bilge pumps, all designed to go up in flames at the flick of a switch. There are seven different fire systems on the prop.
The prop was installed over the last month and fired up late last week for the first time.
"We finished our burn tests on Saturday and started our first advanced course on Monday," Burnett said.
That group, from British Petroleum, used the simulator on Thursday for the first time, and was treated to a variety of firefighting situations.
Consuming about 100 gallons of liquid propane a minute, the flames leaped 50 feet into the air with the roar of a passing freight train. Despite the intimidating flame and heat, the firefighters marched straight into the teeth of the fire.
"Normally they attack a fire very quickly," Burnett said. "They want to get it cooled down and controlled right away."
The fire simulations that were run Thursday involved primary and secondary fires. The operator ignited flames under the simulated propane tanks, which heated the tank, causing propane to be vented from what are called vent whistles, which subsequently caught fire.
The drill required firefighters to cool down the tank to stop the venting of propane, allowing them to attack the primary fire source. The entire process, from the venting propane to the initial flames, is computer controlled.
Sensors determine if the tanks have been cooled enough by the water, and if so, the computer automatically reduces the flow of propane.
Burnett said BP donated $15,000 toward the construction of the prop and consulted on its design.
"BP is pretty committed to this school," said BP spokesperson Jim Jones, who was on hand to watch his company's firefighters train.
"These are our guys from the North Slope. They all work together, so it's teamwork training, too," he said.
The new prop has a price tag of $245,000 and augments the industrial training done in the building fire simulator.
The new prop was paid for by AAI Engineering Support Inc. of Hunt Valley, Md., the management company that operates the fire training facility under a lease from the city of Kenai.
Burnett said the training is open to any industrial fire brigade that is interested.
Typical clients would come from oil and gas exploration, production and refining companies as well as municipal fire departments, such as the Nikiski and Kenai fire departments that may be called upon to respond to industrial fires in Nikiski.
Burnett said the Tesoro and BP fire brigades have been signed up, and he hopes others will take advantage of the new training device.
"It's definitely an attribute to the whole operation," Burnett said. "We hope it will entice industry to do more training with us."
Most of the firefighters trained so far at the nearly 3-year old facility have come from in state.
So far this year, Burnett said, 475 students have undergone training there.
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