The Texas State Fire Marshal issued a report last month that dealt with improvements in the response to large, complex fires following the 2013 fire and deadly explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. While the cause of the deadly fire remains undetermined, the 55-page report, intended to be a guide to prepare future firefighters in handling large, complex fires, outlined a number of suggestions to reduce the risk to fire personnel and prevent injuries when fighting these types of fires. We have written on this incident in previous issues and updated things in the National Section of this issue.
As you may recall, the fire involved a 12,000-square-foot wood frame seed and fertilizer building at the West Fertilizer Plant, known as the Bulk Processing Plant, which had no fire resistance rating. According to the report:
The building contained bins of ammonium nitrate pellets – about 20-30 tons – and other bulk chemicals. As the fire raged, the building’s roof collapsed and an explosion rocked the city of approximately 2,800 people. The blast killed 10 firefighters and five civilians. Several firefighters suffered serious injuries and more than 200 civilians were injured, the report noted.
The explosion created a 90-foot wide and 10-foot deep crater and destroyed or damaged 500 structures in a 37-block area. Pieces of debris were documented as far away as 2.5 miles and the reported noted that the explosion registered 2.1 on the earthquake Richter scale.
Destroyed buildings included three schools, a West EMS building, a nursing home, an apartment complex and several single family homes. Three West Volunteer Fire Department fire trucks were also destroyed by the fire and explosion.
Insured losses as a result of the fire and explosion were estimated to be $100 million. Improvements were recommended in fire department operations indicating that during the West fire, communication was lacking and senior level personnel didn’t take a unified command. There was “unstructured emergency operations lacking in direction and supervision.”
The Uniform Fire Code wasn’t published until 1971. This was after the building’s construction, which was in the 1960s. In addition, at the time the building was constructed there were no requirements for sprinklers.
Source: Claims Journal
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