Connecticut Fire Chief: NIMS Helped at Plant Blast

The Kleen Energy incident, a record natural gas explosion that killed six and injured 40, was discussed this week at FDIC.

South Fire District Chief Edward Badamo was never a fan of NIMS training, but he was converted into a believer following the explosion of a natural gas plant in his city of Middletown, Conn. just over a year ago.

"I thought NIMS training was a waste, but I was in the 'You never know' category," he said to a class at FDIC on Wednesday. "I was a doubter, but it works."

On Feb. 7, 2010, a blast at the Kleen Energy plant that was under construction killed six workers and injured 40 others. It was the largest natural gas explosion in the world.

The plant was 96 percent complete and scheduled to open in July. It was set to become the first non-soot producing power plant in the northeast.

The explosion occurred on Super Bowl Sunday and Badamo was at his home planning what food he would eat and what beer he would drink that night when he suddenly felt the house shake.

The site is located just three miles from his house.

The plant was undergoing a routine gas blow -- cleaning the pipes with a large volume of high pressure natural gas -- at the time of the incident. Gas blowing had been accepted in the industry for some time, but after the explosion, that changed. Kleen now uses nitrogen.

"We knew they were cleaning with natural gas, but didn't think anything of it," he said.

Fifteen previous gas blows had occurred at the plant without any reported issues and while gas odor was detected that day, it wasn't a concern and was a regular event.

Badamo said that more than 2 million cubic feet of natural gas were used on Feb. 7 and that more than 400,000 cubic feet of natural gas were used in the last 10 minutes. That amount is enough to fill a basketball arena.

Possible causes of the explosion include electrical power, welding, heaters or even static electricity and expelled materials, he said.

"This is still an open case. It's still in the state's attorney's office."

Shortly after the explosion occurred, Badamo said that local, state and federal agencies began responding. Since the plant is located in his district, the chief had to find a way to maintain order amid the chaos.

"We had responding units coming from everywhere," he said. "I think we got every ambulance in the state of Connecticut that day."

In all, there were 11 engines, three truck companies, three rescue companies, Connecticut's USAR team, police from both Middletown and Meriden and the state police.

He said that NIMS training allowed for the integration of all of the different agencies.

The response by the outside agencies was actually too good. Due to the location of the plant, it was tough to get trucks to the plant and there were plenty of units that went unused.

"I didn't necessarily need everything that was there. It just came. I needed the bodies, but not all of the apparatus," he said.

With all of the extra manpower, an accountability system was set up and safety issues at the site became even more of a factor.

High voltage electrical lines hung 15 feet over the scene and remained live during the response.

"This was about as hazardous as it gets for firefighters and over the 28 days, there was not a single injury sustained by a firefighter," he said.

The response didn't go without its share of problems though. The only source of water at the plant was a one million gallon water tank that went through an electric water pump. Once the electricity was turned off, however, it was rendered useless and the diesel system was broken.

Badamo had to work with engineers to find a solution and the blaze was quickly knocked down. The process of searching the plant would take much longer.

There were search difficulties with the amount of debris inside the building so the state's USAR team was called in. It was the team's first major deployment to an incident. It turned out that they were short on canines so Massachusetts USAR came into assist.

It took about 8 to 9 hours for the initial walk through but took about a day and a half to complete.

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