Chemical Hazards, Exposure Concerns At Oklahoma City Oil Warehouse Fire

Larry Hansen and Jay K. Bradish report on a five-alarm hazardous materials fire that destroyed a one-story building in Oklahoma City.


A spectacular five-alarm hazardous materials fire destroyed a one-story, concrete block and metal building in Oklahoma City on Jan. 15, 2005. The 150-by-150-foot building was occupied by the B&M Oil Company and used as a distribution center and warehouse. The building had ionization smoke...


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A spectacular five-alarm hazardous materials fire destroyed a one-story, concrete block and metal building in Oklahoma City on Jan. 15, 2005. The 150-by-150-foot building was occupied by the B&M Oil Company and used as a distribution center and warehouse. The building had ionization smoke detectors installed, but they were not connected to an external alarm system.

Firefighters were faced with many problems during this incident, but a strong incident command system and familiarity with the structure enabled them to achieve a successful outcome. The high volume of chemical hazards present, along with the amount of radiant heat being produced, greatly enhanced the potential fire spread to the adjacent commercial structure, residential structures and tank farm. The tremendous amount of heat being generated made it impractical to use foam until most of the chemicals had been consumed by the fire.

The Oklahoma City Fire Department dispatch center received several 911 calls from civilians reporting a working fire. Inventory in the building at the time of the fire included: 23 55-gallon drums of stoddard solvent; 20 55-gallon drums of mineral spirits; 17 55-gallon drums of kerosene; 18 55-gallon drums of methanol; 30,000 pounds of ethylene glycol (anti-freeze) in 55-gallon drums and 1,000-gallon tanks; 175 55-gallon drums inside and bulk 1,000- and 5,000-gallon tanks outside of motor oil; 20 55-gallon drums of molybdenum grease; and pallets of oil filters and absorbents.

The Oklahoma City Fire Department was dispatched to a reported fire in the facility, 615 SE 30th St., at 7:56 A.M. The initial response (equivalent to a second alarm) was Engine 7, Engine 23, Engine 19, Engine 16, Rescue Ladder 7, Rescue Ladder 16, Hazardous Materials Unit 5, Rescue 8, Brush Pumper 23, and Battalion Chiefs Steve Pennington and David Landsberger with 33 firefighters.

At 8:01, Pennington arrived on scene and reported flames and smoke visible. Pennington established command off of the 1-4 corner, out of the smoke plume, and ordered all units to employ a defensive attack to protect exposures. Four occupied residential structures were directly south of the involved building; OPECO Inc., an oilfield equipment warehouse, was six feet to the west; and numerous petroleum tanker trucks and large motor oil storage tanks were on the east side.

Rescue Ladder 16 and Engine 19 advanced three attack lines into the exposure building from side 2. The fire was extinguished and the crews maintained their position to prevent further damage to the building and contents. Hazmat 5 provided air monitoring throughout the incident and assisting fire commanders with establishing work zones and evacuation distances. The crew also reviewed the Tier II report for B&M Oil to determine the types of products and quantities stored in the building. Rescue 8, positioned in a parking lot west of the incident, was assigned as a rapid intervention team. Brush Pumper 23 was positioned on side 4, east of the incident, and its firefighter was assigned to Engine 23.

At 8:06, Pennington requested a third alarm. Engine 4, Engine 6, Rescue Ladder 6, Brush Pumper 4, Air Supply 1, Community Services Liaison Major Nathan Shipman and Battalion Chief Marc Woodard responded. By this time, water supplies had been established and four aerial master streams; two deluge monitors and numerous handlines were operating to protect the exposures.

At 8:18, Pennington made a special request for Engine 5 and Hazmat 55 to assist Hazmat 5. The crew from Engine 5 had looked up specific information on the building from the SARA Title II files. Pennington requested a fourth alarm at 8:19. Engine 1, Engine 51 and Rescue Ladder 1 responded. At 8:21, a special request was made for the department's foam supply trailer, carrying 200 gallons of AR-AFFF foam concentrate and 50 gallons of high-expansion foam concentrate.

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