Have you ever had one of those moments when you thought, “great… This is it.”? I would love to say that that would be an understatement here but unfortunately it’s exactly what I was thinking. I wasn’t capable of anything more at the time. Let me set the situation up for you so you might be able to understand a little better. We got paged out to a methane compressor station fire. When we arrived on scene we found that it was one of the twenty seven compressor buildings on this particular facility. Each building contained four engines and each engine running over a cool mill. This particular facility ran 24/7 and was a major supply line so the company man on scene was eager to get the place back up and running. We had the gas to the facility shut down and began suppression operations. The crew was constantly getting in the way and putting themselves in danger in the process. We eventually had to have the police remove the crew to prevent them from being a further hindrance.
As you can imagine tension was already high on this call but suppression efforts started going our way. We contained the fire to the half of the building where the initial ignition occurred losing only two of the engines. As the initial battle started to die down, try to imagine if you can an eerie silence. The fire was out and there was a lot of heat still in the building but there was still a lot of smoke so it was black in there. I shut the nozzle down and all I can hear is my SCBA hissing from each breath and there’s nothing I can see. For now I’m just listening, trying to hear any noise. After the way this call started, this silence is unnerving to say the least. I was just starting to tell my partner that we should pull out and get the building ventilated when I hear the deafening roar. As I turn toward the sound I seen this flash of light and instead of reacting, I just pause. My mind went blank and I just sat there for a second thinking “well…. That was a good life I guess.”
It must not have been that long that I paused because my team told me I tore out of there faster than they had ever seen me move and with murder in my eyes. It didn’t take me any time to figure out what had happened and when I came out of that building I was ready to do things that are unbefitting of a firefighter, or most people for that matter. Luckily for the company man, our Chief was the one that got to him before any of us.
In this instance, the officers on scene just didn’t have the manpower to fully secure the scene. The company man had wanted to get the facility back up and running so he grabbed a couple hands and turned it on; but when he had the gas turned back on, he failed to turn the bypass on to that building. Needless to say, the entire facility was shut down immediately and everyone that wasn’t fire or police was removed from the facility. Up until this instance, scene security hadn’t been a problem. We worked with the methane companies well and they always co-operated with us without question. So to this point there was no need for certain regulations to be made.
It was a bad situation that led to some serious meetings and thought being put into our policies. More importantly, it also gave me another perspective on situations. It’s really hard to listen to a teacher telling you to be aware of the people surrounding a scene and implement it. You hear and understand the reasons but until you are put in a situation like this one, it doesn’t really sink in. There’s so much going on that it’s easy to miss things. But then something like this happens and you start taking that extra time on the way to the call to think “what if”, and the time after the calls to actually analyze what went good and what could have gone better. It’s a personal experience that most of us will have to experience firsthand to get the benefit from but it’s a good example of where panic can meet rational thought.