Nearly one month after an explosion and fire at a West, TX, fertilizer plant that killed 14 people, LDNews, the webiste of the Lebanon Daily News, is taking a closer look at the event, and in particular, if the town's volunteer fire crews were fully aware of the dangers they faced during their response efforts.
"When they saw 30-foot flames licking the sky inside a massive fertilizer plant, firefighters in this tiny Texas town rushed to evacuate nearby buildings and raced to spray water on tanks of chemicals, hoping to prevent a catastrophe.
They didn't know, and probably could not imagine, that the plant would soon explode into a deadly fireball and lay waste to much of the community. Instead, they were more concerned with preventing toxic gas from leaking out of the facility and drifting into nearby homes."
The LDNews report references Associated Press interviews with first-responders that suggeset the primary concern was a poisonous cloud of anhydrous ammonia. But the bigger threat, according to the report, was the huge supply of the common fertilzer ammonium nitrate, which can also serve as a cheap alternative to dynamite.
The report says Tommy Muska, Mayor of West, said he did not know how much the firefighters knew about the chemicals on the property. But, the report says, it's unclear whether simply knowing about the ammonium nitrate would have been enough.
"The National Fire Protection Association has codes on handling ammonium nitrate, but it does not advise how to fight such fires because circumstances vary, said Guy Colonna, the division manager of the industrial and chemical engineering group.Related NFPA codes and standards
- NFPA 400, Hazardous Material Code: This document applies to the storage, use, and handling of hazardous materials in all occupancies and facilities, including ammonium nitrate solids and liquids. Free access to NFPA 400.
- NFPA 472, Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents. This document identifies the minimum levels of competence required by responders to emergencies involving hazardous materials/weapons of mass destruction. Free access to NFPA 472.
- NFPA 1620, Pre-Incident Planning. This document provides criteria for evaluating the protection, construction, and operational features of specific occupancies to develop a pre-incident plan that should be used by responding personnel to manage fires and other emergencies in such occupancies using the available resources. Free access to NFPA 1620.
- Storage of ammonium nitrate was the subject of a case study at a 2010 Fire Protection Research Foundaiton symposium.