Chemical plant explosion in Texas; man is missing and two men are injured. Was there fire protection at this chemical plant?
F.E. Moran Special Hazard Systems had been providing fire protection solutions for a number of years at a cutting-edge silicon chemical plant. The facility recently discovered that the fire protection system in the cooling tower needed replacement. In a week's time, the piping was removed and replaced during an outage, providing the plant with the protection they needed to keep their facility safe.
A Solid Track Record of Providing Robust Protection for the Plant's High-Risk Hazards
As chemical processing continues to develop, the facilities in which products are manufactured must progress as well. One of the leading silicon chemical plants in the solar power industry has relied on F.E. Moran Special Hazard Systems over the years for effective fire protection solutions for their developing plant. Their systems and services have proven to effectively protect the plant's valuable assets from the high-risk hazards that exist within the environment. As several phases of expansion have taken place, F. E. Moran Special Hazard Systems has designed and installed detection and suppression systems for areas such as vessels, distillation and hot oil areas, pipe racks, superheaters and silane loading areas.
F.E. Moran's Experience Enables Them to Uncover Issues Before They Escalate Into Big Problems
While doing maintenance work within their cooling tower, the plant had discovered an air leak on the pilot line of the fire protection system and asked F.E. Moran to repair it. It was discovered that corrosion at the joint of the pilot line had caused the leak, which led F.E. Moran to suggest inspecting the water piping. Experience told F.E. Moran that if the pilot line had sustained corrosion from the harsh environment, the water piping was probably in need of maintenance as well. F.E. Moran's speculation proved to be accurate and the plant's commitment to safety led them to make the decision to replace all of the piping in the cooling tower. The facility could recognize the expertise and precision of F. E. Moran's work over the four years that they had performed services at the plant, which made it an easy decision for them to select F. E. Moran as the contractor to perform the replacement.
Flexibility, Knowledge and a Vast Network of Resources
The time frame within which F. E. Moran was given to finish the project presented a challenge that required tapping into their extensive network of resources. Fire protection equipment utilized in cooling towers, such as the specialized nozzles, are typically made to order. F. E. Moran called upon a dependable and efficient fabricator they had worked with in the past to supply the pipe so that the project could be completed within the scheduled outage. Part of the F. E. Moran crew arrived a couple of days before the start date of the project to receive the materials and tools and prepare for the project so that they could begin work as soon as the facility could allow them access to the tower.
Another obstacle that F. E. Moran faced involved the design input referenced for pre-ordering and fabricating the materials used in the system. Some of the older drawings that were used as "as-builts" for the project required amending, which required experience and flexibility to make the necessary adjustments in the field while still meeting the target date.
F. E. Moran installed Schedule 40 galvanized pipe to constitute the new deluge system, which is designed to withstand severe elements to a higher degree than standard pipe. Additionally, F.E. Moran installed stainless steel nozzles for a higher degree of corrosion resistance. Another measure they took to counter the high rate of corrosion was the utilization of stainless steel hangers, which are even more durable than the galvanized hangers that previously supported the system.
Efficient Project Management and Effective Labor Allows F.E. Moran to Complete Projects in Remarkable Time
As a highly productive chemical plant, they aimed to minimize the down time of any part of its facility. They had given F.E. Moran one week to complete the work during the scheduled outage and any delays in the completion of the project would have resulted in losses for the facility. On Monday, July 11th, F.E. Moran began the onsite work at the plant, with a deadline of Monday, July 18th for the tower to resume operation. F.E. Moran worked efficiently and skillfully and put in the necessary overtime hours so that on Saturday the 16th the system had been fully installed and the pipe had been hydrostatically tested to ensure optimal operation, making the project fully complete with time to spare. The Emergency Response Coordinator for the facility says "F.E. Moran's Project Management team is very professional, experienced and helpful in making sure a quality project that meets the customer's needs is completed." Of the work completed by F.E. Moran, he says: "I would recommend and use F.E. Moran for future projects that I have, they have the ability to complete large and small projects within a short duration."
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On May 4, 1988, Henderson, Nevada experienced an explosion that shook the city. The Pacific Engineering Production Company of Nevada (PEPCON) plant exploded, causing $100 million in damage, affecting 10 miles of the Las Vegas Valley, injuring 372 people, and killing 2. Looking back at fires and explosions allows us the opportunity to learn from history.
The PEPCON plant produced ammonium perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket booster fuel for Space Shuttles and military weapons. Beneath the plant was a natural gas line. PEPCON was one of two American producers, the other, Kerr-McGee, was located only 1.5 miles away from the PEPCON facility.
The 1986 Challenger disaster froze the space shuttle program, forcing the PEPCON plant to keep the ammonium perchlorate on site. There was such a large quantity of the oxidizer that the plant ran out of aluminum storage bins and began using plastic drums placed in the parking lot. Approximately, 4500 tons of the product was on-site during the explosion.
The Fire Event
Between 11:30am and 11:40am, the fire sparked in a damaged drying process structure. Wind damaged the fiberglass and steel framed structure and employees were using a torch to repair it. The torch ignited the fiberglass material and quickly spread to the ammonium perchlorate residue. The fire spread to the 55-gallon plastic drums storing the product as employees attempted to extinguish the fire. This drum was the first to explode.
The fire spread through the drums creating a large fireball and leading to four more explosions. The fire then found its way to the aluminum storage containers, causing two small and one massive explosion. The explosions used most of the fuel; however, the fire found the natural gas line and developed into a fireball.
There were seven explosions during this event. The largest measured at 3.5 on the Richter Scale. The explosions caused a 15-feet deep and 200-feet long crater in the storage area.
The first explosion killed two men, Roy Westerfield, Controller, who stayed behind to call the fire department and Bruce Halker, who was wheelchair bound and unable to leave the plant. 372 additional employees were injured.
Mr. Westerfield was never able to contact the fire department. They were not notified until the fire chief saw the explosion while driving. He ordered his units to the scene. Another explosion shattered the chief's windows and a second explosion sent debris into the car, damaging it and injuring him and his passenger. A survivor was driving a heavily damaged car away from the plant and told the chief about the danger of subsequent explosions. The chief ordered the firefighters to turn around and head back to the station. No firefighting attempt was made due to the danger involved.
The police department evacuated a five-mile radius around the plant. The roads were jammed with residents fleeing and gawkers heading toward the scene. It took two hours to clear.
The explosions demolished the PEPCON plant and the neighboring Kidd & Co marshmallow manufacturing facility. Within a ten-mile radius, windows were shattered and doors were blown off their hinges.
After the incident, PEPCON changed their name to Western Electrochemical and rebuilt in Cedar City, UT. They had a 14-mile no-build buffer. On July 30, 1997, they experienced another explosion that killed one and injured four.
Tags: chemical processing plant fire protection, chemical fire protection, fire sprinklers