On The Job California: Seven Alarms At Plastics Plant

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On Tuesday, July 26, 2011, a seven-alarm fire in the storage area of a plastics factory in Fairfield, CA, required the resources of 12 fire departments. The fire was caused by workers using a blow torch on polypropylene scrap and grew rapidly due to the flammable nature of the plastic. The large fire load made a sustained attack difficult.Macro Plastics is a plastic mold injection manufacturer that produces plastic totes used for agricultural harvest, storage, processing and shipping. The facility consisted of a 5,000-square-foot plant and a 10-acre storage yard. The yard contained 16,000 totes stored in piles up to 20 feet high. Aisles between the rows of totes were 40 feet wide.

The Fairfield Fire Department was dispatched at 1:03 P.M. to a report of “heavy black smoke coming from the field between Macro Plastics and Ball Metal” at 2250 Huntington Drive. Responding on the first alarm were 18 firefighters, Engines 37, 39 and 41 and Truck 37, a quint with a 55-foot ladder under the command of Battalion Chief Rob Bartoli. Engine 39 arrived on scene at 1:05 P.M. and Captain Matt Luckenbach reported “a working fire in a stack of plastic bins away from the building” and established command.

Bartoli saw a large column of black smoke while responding and requested a second alarm at 1:08 P.M., bringing Fairfield Engines 35 and 40 and Cordelia Fire Department Engine 31 to the scene. Bartoli arrived on scene at 1:11 P.M. and assumed command. A command post was established in front of the Macro Plastics building and a staging area was set up on Huntington Drive.

Engine 39 hooked onto a yard hydrant with a 100-foot, 4½-inch line and attempted a direct attack with a master-stream monitor. Truck 37 laid a 300-foot, 4½-inch line from a hydrant across Huntington Drive in front of the building. The apparatus was positioned in the storage yard near Engine 39 and set up for aerial master-stream operations. Engine 39 was placed in the storage yard to be used in the event of further exposure of the main building. The crew from Engine 39 assisted Truck 37.

An evacuation of the plant and employee head count were completed by plant personnel with all employees being accounted for. Additional evacuations of nearby businesses were conducted by Fairfield police officers and a shelter-in-place was ordered for a one-mile radius.

 

Defensive operations

As the balance of the first alarm arrived on scene, it was decided to go to defensive operations due to the amount of fire involvement and the amount of fire load present. Engines 31 and 47 were staged and crews were assigned to firefighting operations. Fairfield Engine 35 was assigned to operate near the rear of the storage area. Engine 35 was supplied with a 200-foot, 4½-inch line. Firefighters placed a 200-foot, three-inch attack line equipped with a smooth-bore nozzle into operation from this engine. Fairfield Engine 40 and Cordelia Engine 31 were staged and crews assigned to firefighting operations.

Due to the size of the fire, the incident was divided into two divisions. Luckenback was assigned Fire Attack Group Supervisor, Engine 41 Captain Bob Stoffel was assigned Division A Supervisor and Vacaville Fire Division Chief Frank Drayton was assigned Division B Supervisor.

Command requested a third alarm at 1:44 P.M. Suisun Fire Protection District Engine 33 and Vacaville Fire Protection District Engine 65 responded. Also, the Incident Management Support Team (IMST), Solano County Multi-Agency Hazardous Materials Team (HM1) and the Solano County Health Department were requested at this time. The IMST responds to all third-alarm or greater incidents and is comprised of incident command, operations, hazmat group, medical group, logistics, planning, safety, PIO and police staff members. HM1 monitored downwind air quality and provided water runoff samples to Solano County Environmental Health personnel. Neither air nor water samples indicated any contamination from the fire. Suisun Fire Protection District Engine 33 laid a 400-foot, three-inch line to a position behind the manufacturing building. A single three-inch attack line was placed into operation to protect the main building. Vacaville Fire Protection District Engine 65 was staged and its crew was assigned to firefighting operations.

Two additional ladder trucks were requested at 1:51 P.M. Vacaville Truck 71, a 100-foot aerial, and Suisun City Truck 47, a 100-foot front-mount bucket, responded. Vacaville Truck 71 laid a 400-foot, 4½-inch line from Huntington Drive to the rear of the manufacturing plant and was set up for aerial master-stream operations. Suisun City Truck 47 was staged.

Command requested a fourth alarm at 2:16 P.M. Dixon Fire Department Engine 81, Travis Air Force Base Engine 45 and Vacaville Fire Protection District Engine 64 responded. Dixon Engine 81 laid a 400-foot, 4½-inch line from a hydrant in the parking lot of a Michelin tire warehouse to the B side of the incident. A portable monitor supplied by a 300-foot, three-inch line was positioned on side B, supplied by Engine 81. Vacaville Fire Protection District Engine 64 was staged.

Fifth and sixth alarms were requested at 2:37 P.M. Benicia Fire Department Engine 12, Vallejo Fire Department Engine 25, Travis Air Force Base Crash 46, Suisun Fire Protection District Engine 32, Dixon Engine 281 and Cordelia Fire Protection District Engine 29 responded.

Command declared the fire under control at 6:20 P.M. and mutual aid units began being released. Fairfield Engine 39 and crew remained on scene for a fire watch. At 12:01 A.M. on Wednesday, July 27, the scene was turned back to plant management.

Seven alarms were requested for assistance under Solano County Mutual Aid Agreements. More than 50 firefighters and staff responded. AFFF foam was used initially by Crash 9, but was abandoned due to the size of fuel load involved. It was not a practical application for this fire. Weather at the time of the fire was clear, temperature of 86 degrees, light winds out of the southwest and relative humidity of 55%. Three firefighters suffered minor injuries.

 

Investigation

A two-day investigation was conducted by the Fairfield Fire Department and insurance company investigators. It was determined that the fire was caused by inattention by workers using a blow torch to remove plastic scrap from the bins left from the manufacturing process. This work was done by a contract company. During this process, one bin caught fire and the fire grew rapidly due to the flammable nature of the polypropylene.

The close proximity of additional bins stacked high and the large fire load made a sustained attack difficult and resulted in firefighters relocating from initial positions due to extreme radiant heat and increasing fire conditions. The inventory in the storage yard was between 15,000 and 20,000 plastic bins valued at $250 each. Damage was estimated at $4.5 million. n

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