Local Refineries Talk Preparation, Response As Texas Fire Rages On

Mar 19, 2019, 6:32 PM | Updated: 6:58 pm

NORTH SALT LAKE, Utah — A massive two-day fire at a Houston-area petrochemical storage site continues to rage and is expected to burn two more days. With five major petroleum refineries straddling Salt Lake and Davis Counties, KSL asked if that kind of catastrophe could happen here.

There have been fires at some of the local refineries in the past, as recently as January at the Holly Refinery. But, nothing like the massive blaze burning in Texas.

Firefighters made progress today as they try to contain the blaze at Intercontinental Terminals Co.

The fire started Sunday when a leak from a tank containing a volatile compound ignited and spread. The tanks hold tens of thousands of barrels of products used to boost gasoline octane and make solvents.

As firefighters try to contain that fire, we asked Fire Chief Jeff Bassett to consider the potential danger in his community. Four of the five refineries are in his jurisdiction of South Davis Metro Fire.

“They don’t worry me. From a day-to-day basis, they do not worry me,” said Bassett, fire chief of South Davis Metro Fire.

The refineries act as their own first responders, he said.

“All of the refineries have what’s called a fire brigade,” he said. “So, they have on-site fire apparatus, on-site fire stations.”

“Think of it as a volunteer fire department in a rural community,” said Brad Shafer, Marathon Petroleum State Government Affairs Manager. “We plan for the worst scenario.”

Each year, half of the 40-person Marathon fire brigade gets special training out of state for suppressing fuel fires.

On site, they have a 500,000 gallon water tank, foam storage, their own fire trucks, and their own fire chief and safety manager.

“They have industrial fire engines that are made for the plant,” said Bassett.

If any refinery needs help, in the event of a fire, the other refineries respond as part of a mutual aid agreement.

“We can assist each other with resources, manpower, firefighting equipment,” said Shafer.

Chief Bassett meets regularly with the fire chiefs or safety directors from all of the the refineries.

“It’s a great working group where that’s important,” said Bassett. “When something does happen, we all know each other.”

When it comes down to it, Bassett said, any major fire could threaten his community.

“It doesn’t really bother me any more than the stress that I have about a wildland fire on our east bench that could wipe out 300 houses,” he said. “It’s the same kind of stress I think any fire chief experiences.”

All of these preparations cannot guarantee there will never be a major fire. That’s why the fire brigades and the local firefighters regularly train and meet to go over their detailed response plans.

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Local Refineries Talk Preparation, Response As Texas Fire Rages On