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- Initial water supply – The initial water supply was a huge problem, but also turned into a major success with the use of the tanker shuttle.
- Anhydrous ammonia – The main issue was the potential for a massive release from two 750-1,000-gallon liquid storage tanks. Risk vs. benefit? Big risk, big benefit. The reality was that the fire department was not prepared for this type of situation and lacked any type of ammonia detector. Creatively, a local chemical wholesaler, DPC Chemical, lent the fire department several “ammonia kits” that gave the fire department confidence to lift the massive evacuation that was in place for the community. Ultimately, the 64th CST group brought the most advanced equipment, which was able to detect a very small leak in a valve and also confirm that a massive release was not in progress or imminent.
- Natural gas supply – The natural gas supply was active and flowing into the building. This was a likely cause of some of the rapid fire spread. The only way to shut it off was by the gas company capping the line because all of the valves were seized and flowing. Never assume utilities to an abandoned building have been turned off.
- Firefighter rehabilitation – One firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion. Although firefighter accountability was good, this firefighter was working in an area that required full protective clothing and an airpack. There are a lot of questions with rehab, hydration and fitness of firefighters. Did firefighters pre-hydrate before their shift? Were firefighters hydrating through the course of the incident? Did firefighters rotate too long? Although the firefighter fully recovered, the department is revamping its entire rehabilitation program. A complete overhaul of the firefighter rehab program is underway through the department’s Safety Committee and Local 244.
- Fireground control – Combining the rehab area with the command post was a mistake. The command post must be kept separate from all distractions.
- Incident command – The Incident Command System (ICS) and Personnel Accountability System (PAS) were implemented to bring the incident to a successful conclusion.
- Water supply – This operation was a testament to the driver/engineer program and good training. The department has been proficient through the years with rural water supply and drafting operations, and maintains that proficiency through its driver/engineer program. The Training and Special Operations Division has consolidated multiple drop tanks, jet siphons and other needed equipment to create a “big water” unit.
- Going defensive – The initial crews made a difficult decision. Credit that to good training and the unfortunate lessons learned from the Dec. 3. 1999 cold-storage warehouse fire in Worcester, MA, in which six firefighters were killed (see the March 2000 issue of Firehouse® for complete coverage of the fire and its aftermath).
- Collapse zones – The building imploded. Although firefighters prepared for an ugly collapse, the building fell in on itself. Firefighters respected the collapse zones and operated as close to the corners as possible.
- Handling hazardous materials – Anhydrous ammonia was a problem. The manner in which it was handled was also one of the incident’s greatest successes. The department is in the process of improving its air-monitoring equipment and corresponding standard operating guidelines (SOGs). The department is also improving its relationship and training with the 64th CST with more comprehensive training planned. Hazmat operations and air-monitoring procedures are under review.