(FFCC’s NOTE: In this “FirefighterCloseCall” a single company was dispatched to what is considered as “an outside fire”…our FD would do the same. This firefighter was FULLY GEARED UP and on-air-and it made a BIG difference to what seemed to be a “hoo-hum” response… that BLEW UP in their faces! “Unknown type fires” must be assumed to be potentially the WORST fires… because we have little to help us “size up”… barrels, dumpsters and related “junk” fires can have hidden dangers. Use of SCBA and full bunker gear is a great way to start off as we figure out what tactics to use.)
We were dispatched to a tool manufacturer for a fire outside of a structure. Pre arrival told us that there was a barrel of “water” burning next to the building but outside. When we arrived we didn’t see anything until we came around the corner. At that point we stopped and the barrel looked to be a 55 Gal metal drum with the lid off. The fire was relatively small and looked like a small amount of gasoline burning on top of water. It looked like a Dry Chem could handle it. Before Brian could remove the pin, the barrel exploded. Brian was knocked back onto his butt, but was unhurt. He has all his SCBA and gear on. He got up discharged the extinguisher and that was the end of the fire.
It turns out that was a barrel of water. The tool company has a system that takes the cuttings and oil and “washes” them for disposal. It is an elaborate system and works well. The water barrel is used to store the cuttings after being washed and then it is capped later. What happen here is that the metals where not cleaned properly and the mixture caused heat. The heat started to evaporate the water and a thick slag was formed at the bottom of the barrel. When the water was all gone Hydrogen gases were trapped in the slag. With enough heat and now the introduction of air from the outside some of the oils ignited. By the time we arrived the fire caused enough heat to release the hydrogen and then BOOM. A security video shows the shape of a fire ball we saw as a the mushroom cloud.
Nobody was hurt, that is the good news. The bad news was that it took allot of convincing to get people to believe the barrel exploded. That is why I got the security video and edited it. The manufacturer of the washing system, the tool company and some people at my own department thought we were exaggerating. We were not.
Smarter FF’s in Florida