Williams Fire & Hazard Control responds to Nicaraguan tank fire

September 23, 2016

Throughout its history, the Williams Fire & Hazard Control team has been at the forefront of fire suppression product design, tactical response, and crisis control and mitigation. No single event is ever the same, and each event provides further education and understanding that improves the team’s ability to handle the next event when it arises.  On the night of August 17th at 2100 hours, Chauncey Naylor (Director of Emergency Response and Training) received an emergency call from a storage terminal operating in Puerto Sandino, Nicaragua.  They reported a seal fire on one of their four tanks which contained crude. Within four hours of receiving the call, the seal fire had turned into a full surface tank fire. Chauncey collected the required information, confirming the facility had six thousand gallons of 3% foam to extinguish the tank fire, and an additional two thousand gallons of foam for post suppression. Chauncey immediately launched his team into action.  The team orchestrated equipment and personnel movements to respond to the one hundred and fifty foot full surface crude tank fire. The following morning, the team was on their way to Nicaragua from Texas, USA.  They arrived on-site at 1400 hours on August 18th and immediately began to assess the situation.

By that time, the tank had experienced a series of boil-overs, landing burning fuel into the containment dike that housed an additional storage tank containing Naptha, another hydrocarbon. This set the second tank on fire, dramatically changing the setting, response tactics, and foam and hose requirements.  The team needed to revisit their original assessment and adjust.  The determination was made that a dispatch of additional THUNDERSTORM 1×3 foam (from the response team’s emergency stock in Port Arthur, Texas) was necessary, along with a 7.25 inch supply line to replace the above ground fire water main that had been compromised during the boil-over.

While awaiting the arrival of the equipment and foam as it cleared customs, the team continued to monitor the situation and stage crews and equipment in anticipation of execution. During this time, members of the team met with federal government officials, as others worked to repair the fixed firewater system on site, ensuring it would be viable during operations. As equipment was in route to the site, the second tank containing Naptha experienced a sudden failure, spilling burning product into the containment area. A few hours later, the same tank erupted into a steam explosion which launched product eight hundred feet into the air, consuming the majority of Naptha remaining in the tank.

As the fire continued to evolve, and the Williams Fire & Hazard Control team presented the situation to the terminal operators and informed them at this time they have two options:

Extinguish the fire and have a few feet of hydrocarbons remaining in the two tanks and in the containment area to deal with. This posed a significant long term hazard that would expose clean-up workers, and extend the business interruption. The cost of the extinguishment was considered to be more than the value of the product saved. Cost wasn’t the driving factor – it was safety!
Allow the remaining hydrocarbons to burn out, rendering the site basically “gas free”. Work could then start immediately to put the facility back in service.

The facility operators and federal government officials agreed with the Williams Fire & Hazard Control team’s assessment, and eventually decided that option two was the appropriate course of action, and chose to let the fire burn out.

The Williams Fire & Hazard Control Response Team is in ongoing contact with the storage terminal. The equipment and foam which was delivered to the site have been left with the facility and is in service today providing stand-by fire protection for workers.  The 7.25 inch hose is deployed and serves as a temporary fire main system for the entire facility. The response team will be working with the facility to create emergency response plans and to train first responders on tactics and equipment operations.

The expertise provided by the response team enabled facility officials to make appropriate decisions for their operations.  This event illustrates another successful response to a serious industrial event that few companies are qualified to handle. Tyco Fire Protection Products commends the team’s response, their professionalism, and their constant pursuit to supply superior emergency response and equipment to the Oil and Gas industry.

Additional thanks goes to those that work behind the scenes.  These dedicated team members worked tirelessly to support the response team and played a crucial role in its execution.