On The Job - Iowa: Quick Defensive Attack Controls Hazmat Fire At Des Moines Facility

John Schilling and Jay K. Bradish report on a four-alarm fire at which defensive operations kept flames away from a bulkchemical tank farm and eliminated nearly all of the environmental impact of a chemical spill and contaminated runoff.


On Oct. 29, 2007, a four-alarm fire destroyed a chemical warehouse, loading area and tractor-trailer at the Barton Solvents facility in Saylor Township, Des Moines, IA. By immediately initiating defensive operations, firefighters prevented the fire from spreading to the facility's bulk-chemical tank...


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On Oct. 29, 2007, a four-alarm fire destroyed a chemical warehouse, loading area and tractor-trailer at the Barton Solvents facility in Saylor Township, Des Moines, IA. By immediately initiating defensive operations, firefighters prevented the fire from spreading to the facility's bulk-chemical tank farm, another warehouse and the corporate headquarters. And by letting the loading area and warehouse burn, firefighters eliminated nearly all of the environmental impact of a chemical spill and contaminated runoff.

The products stored and transferred out of the facility contain chemicals used in the painting and coating industries. In addition to the Des Moines facility, Barton Solvents has storage and transfer facilities in West Bend, WI; Bettendorf and Council Bluffs, IA; and Kansas City and Wichita, KS.

At 1:07 P.M., a Barton employee was transferring ethyl acetate from the facilities tank farm via a pipeline into a 330-gallon storage container in a loading area. The worker turned his head for a second and then heard a popping noise that was believed to be a relief valve. The concussion from a small eruption apparently knocked the fill nozzle from the tote, spraying the area with ethyl acetate. The worker's clothing ignited, but he removed it quickly and did not sustain any serious injuries. Another employee attempted to extinguish the fire with a hand-held extinguisher, but prior to the fire being extinguished, the extinguisher ran out of agent. The workers successfully shut the power off to the loading area and assisted with the evacuation of the plant. Thirty-three employees were evacuated without injury. The injured worker suffered first degree burns, but was not transported to the hospital.

Initial Alarms

At 1:10 P.M., the Polk County Communications Center received a 911 call from Barton Solvents reporting a fire on the loading dock. The dispatcher paged the Saylor Township Fire Department for a commercial assignment, TEAMS Box 49-I (Industrial). The Saylor Township Fire Department protects 17 square miles of unincorporated township immediately north of the City of Des Moines. Last year, the department responded to 839 calls for service.

The initial-assignment level requested Engine 4930, Ambulance 4980 and Assistant Chief Scott Cross from Saylor Township and Engine 3335 from the Delaware Township Fire Department. Just before Cross arrived on scene, a second alarm was broadcast by the Communications Center based on additional information from callers and initial reports from law enforcement officers. The second alarm brought to the scene Truck 3960 from the Johnston Fire Department; RIT Engine 1231 from the Ankeny Fire Department and a Haz/Mat Strike Team from the Des Moines Fire Department. The Haz/Mat Strike Team consisted of Hazmat 1, Medic 3, Ladder 1, Haz/Mat Captain Robert Cox, Special Operations District Chief Joe Giudicessi and District Chief Randy Chumbley with a total of 13 firefighters.

Cross arrived on scene at 1:15 and established command. He immediately requested a third alarm and ordered defensive operations. The defensive tactics established were to shut off the valves from the facility's tank farm to the loading area and to establish heavy master streams on the fire. The third alarm brought Engine/Tanker 2546 and Heavy Rescue 2570 from the Altoona Fire Department; Truck 1161 and Tanker 1151 from Ankeny; Tanker 4950 from Saylor; Tanker 3750 from the Grimes Fire Department and Hazmat 5 from Des Moines.

Saylor Engine 4930, Delaware Engine 3335 and Johnston Quint 3960 proceeded onto the plant property and were positioned near the loading dock. A 100-foot, five-inch supply line was hand-laid from a private hydrant on plant property to Engine 4930. A 100-foot, three-inch supply line was hand-laid from Engine 4930 to Engine 3335. The crew from Saylor Engine 4930 was assigned to shut off the valves in the tank farm to stop the flow of any chemicals to the loading area. The crew from Delaware Engine 3335 and additional firefighters set up two unmanned monitors aimed at the loading dock and the seat of the fire. Each engine supplied one monitor with a five-inch supply line. Johnston Quint 3960 was positioned and set up for master stream operations, but was operated due to the orders to evacuate the area.

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