On The Job: NORTH CAROLINA

  At 12:48 A.M. on Sunday, July 13, 2010, lightning struck an 80-foot-diameter above-ground bulk storage tank at the Colonial Pipeline Co. facility in Greensboro, NC. Tank 819 was a "floating roof" geodesic dome-type tank containing 22,000 barrels of...


  At 12:48 A.M. on Sunday, July 13, 2010, lightning struck an 80-foot-diameter above-ground bulk storage tank at the Colonial Pipeline Co. facility in Greensboro, NC. Tank 819 was a "floating roof" geodesic dome-type tank containing 22,000 barrels of premium gasoline. Within minutes of the...


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At 12:48 A.M. on Sunday, July 13, 2010, lightning struck an 80-foot-diameter above-ground bulk storage tank at the Colonial Pipeline Co. facility in Greensboro, NC. Tank 819 was a "floating roof" geodesic dome-type tank containing 22,000 barrels of premium gasoline. Within minutes of the alarm, the tank was at the full surface fire stage and the Greensboro Fire Department was engaged in an event of such significance for the first time in its history.

The Greensboro tank farm is one of the largest refined storage facilities in the United States. Most of the East Coast is supplied with fuel through pipelines that run through the Greensboro tank farm, including major airports and military installations. The entire network capacity of the tank farm is around one billion gallons of refined products and a majority of North Carolina's fuel supply comes out of the Greensboro area.

Over the past 10 years, an aggressive preparedness effort has been undertaken by the Greensboro Fire Department and more importantly by the tank farm. In 2002, the fire department, with financial support from the tank farms, applied for an Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) to purchase equipment that would assist in the control and extinguishment of a tank fire. Once the grant was awarded, the necessary equipment was purchased and training took place.

One major step was the installation of Ring Main Manifolds to maximize water flows. The City of Greensboro Water Resources Department agreed to install the Ring Main Manifolds at no charge if the facility purchased the manifolds. The relationship between the tank farm, the water department and the fire department was invaluable when the fire occurred.

The City of Greensboro is in the central Piedmont of North Carolina, midway between Washington, DC, and Atlanta, GA. Greensboro was incorporated as a town in 1808 and is the county seat for Guilford County. The city is the third largest by population in North Carolina and the surrounding Piedmont Triad metropolitan region.

The Greensboro Fire Department provides protection to approximately 150 square miles with a population within all areas protected of 309,000. The Greensboro Fire Department's primary mission is to provide fire, medical, hazardous materials and technical rescue response and first responder medical support to county EMS providers. Fire protection is provided by 515 uniformed personnel operating out of 23 fire stations, 23 engine companies, nine ladder companies, four battalion chief vehicles, a heavy rescue company, two hazardous materials companies, and necessary support equipment and personnel. In addition to the special-call units, the department has a Foam Task Force comprised of units from three stations surrounding the tank farm. They are dual-role units in that they serve in a structural firefighting capacity and also maintain foam firefighting equipment. The foam firefighting equipment includes:

  • Williams Fire & Hazard Control Inc.® 6,000-gpm pump
  • Williams AmbassadorTM 1K to 6K trailer-mounted nozzle
  • Two larger-diameter hose trailers carrying 10,000 feet of 7¼-inch "Double-5" Brand HoseTM
  • High-flow drafting equipment
  • Industrial pumper with 800 gallons of 1% by 3% Williams ThunderStormTM foam concentrate
  • Foam tender with 850 gallons of 1% by 3% Williams ThunderStormTM foam concentrate
  • Two Williams Daspit ToolsTM (monitors designed for a large-volume attack to the rim of a storage tank)
  • Other foam-proportioning equipment

"Game Day"

The Greensboro Fire Department had never faced an event of this type. Although some 40 years ago the department responded to a seal fire at the tank farm, that fire was small and caused no significant issues. The department has conducted numerous drills at the Colonial Pipeline facility, with training for a similar situation taking place just three weeks before the fire. The relationship between Colonial Pipeline and the Greensboro Fire Department can be described as a model for a public/private partnership. This partnership proved invaluable on "Game Day."

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