Oil Tank Farm Fire Proves Challenging for Pennsylvania Crews

On Tuesday, Dec. 5 at 9:20 a.m., the Corydon Township and Lafayette Township Volunteer Fire Departments were dispatched to a battery of oil tanks on fire on Route 321 in Corydon Township.

At the time of the incident, McKean County was under a snow advisory and was experiencing heavy, blowing and drifting snow with a temperature at 20 degrees without the wind chill. The fire was located in the Allegheny National Forest in the southwest portion of Corydon Township resulting in extended response times due to the weather and poor road conditions.

Corydon Township responded with Engine 191, a 1,250-gpm pumper and Tanker 193, a 3,000 gallon tanker. Lafayette Township responded with Engine Tanker 215, a 1,500-gpm pumper.

Assistant Fire Chief Tom Johnson from the Star Hose Company of Port Allegany, Pa., reported "five storage tanks fully involved located 100 yards off the roadway." Lafayette Township Chief Don Fowler requested a second alarm based on the updated scene report.

Bradford Township Volunteer Fire Department responded with Rescue Engine 153, a 1,500-gpm pumper and Utility 152 with additional foam supplies. Lewis Run Volunteer Fire Department responded with Tanker 62, a 3,500 gallon tanker and additional foam. Bradford City Fire Department and Derrick City Volunteer Fire Department were placed on standby for Bradford Township, Corydon Township and Lewis Run. Hilltop Volunteer Fire Department was on standby for Lafayette Township. A special call was made to Kane, Ludlow and Highland Township Volunteer Fire Department to assist with water supply. Kane responded with an engine and Ludlow and Highland Township responded with tankers.

Bruce Manning, McKean County Emergency Management Agency Deputy Director, also responded to the scene. The Warren County Hazardous Materials Team was contacted to respond with absorbent materials.

The five tanks were located within a small earthen dike and were estimated to contain between 20,000 and 30,000 gallons of crude oil. Fire officials conferred with rangers from the Allegheny Nation Forest due to the possible environmental impact. The dike surrounding the tanks was not large enough to contain a spill if a catastrophic tank failure occurred nor would it contain the water runoff from a prolonged fire attack.

Rangers and fire officials agreed that it was necessary to attempt extinguishment of the fire to prevent a tank failure that would result in more environmental damage than the overflow of firefighting water and foam.

Fire officials agreed that one all out attempt would be made to extinguish the fire. If the fire could not be extinguished, necessary plans were in place to minimize the environmental impact. Heavy construction equipment was in place to dig containment ponds to collect the runoff and spill if necessary.

Corydon Township Fire Chief Doug Cobb established a command post and acted as incident commander. Bradford Township Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dan Burkhouse was Operations Chief and Bradford Township Assistant Chief Rick Brocius was Safety Officer.

Engine 191 was setup as the supply engine with Tanker 62 supplying it. Additionally Engines 215 and 153 were setup to supply Engine 191. A 350 foot, five- inch supply line was hand laid from Engine 191 to the fire. A five-inch manifold supplied two 50 foot, three-inch supply lines that were wyed to one and three quarter inch lines. Two lines foam lines were setup, and one backup water line was established. Foam eductors were placed in line and 100 feet of one and three quarter inch hose line equipped with foam nozzles were stretched for attack. Four 20 pound dry chemical extinguishers were also in place to extinguish the gas fire.

With water and foam supplies established, two crews manning the foam lines initiated attack on the fire around the base of the tanks first, and then to the fires burning from the tank vents and hatch areas. Once the oil fire was extinguished, firefighters moved in with the dry chemical extinguishers and extinguished the gas fire.

They used 60 gallons of foam and less than 3,500 gallons of water. The tank containment area held all of the water and foam that was used to extinguish the fire with no runoff. None of the tanks failed even though they were bulged and starting to collapse.

Oil company crews started cleanup efforts as soon as the crude oil cooled to a safe temperature. There were no injuries.