A Unique Approach to Industrial Fire Protection

A full-time department and volunteer brigade have provided effective emergency response at Pfizer's Groton facility for more than 50 years.

FIRE protection is a significant concern with which all industrial facilities must contend. Depending on the location, the facility may rely on the local fire department, or it may choose to provide its own protection in the form of an industrial fire department or brigade.

For the facility that is located in a jurisdiction that has a fire department capable of responding to all of its needs, the choice may be simple. Unfortunately, industrial facilities may be located in almost any community, and fire protection may be available in varying formats and levels of response capabilities. This presents a significant challenge to the facilities management team, as it must perform a risk vs. benefit analysis to determine what level of protection is required and develop a plan to support its analysis results.

Pfizer, Inc. at its Groton, Conn., site, has chosen to provide its own fire protection, successfully, by creating a fire department comprised of full-time career firefighters and supported by a volunteer emergency brigade. This article will provide the reader with an overview of the effective emergency response system that has been in place at Pfizer's Groton facility for more than 50 years.

Site Characteristics
The Groton site is one of the largest and most unique facilities of the global leader in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Comprised of more than 140 acres, the Groton campus includes approximately 100 buildings that house the corporation's research and development functions and a major manufacturing facility for human and animal health bulk pharmaceuticals. A daytime population of nearly 8,000 colleagues, contractors, and visitors occupy this scenic site on the Thames River.

Department Overview
The Pfizer Fire Department is comprised of 18 full-time employees who are supported by a 45-member volunteer brigade. Under the direction of the fire chief, the Pfizer Fire Department is prepared to respond to all emergencies involving fire, hazardous materials, emergency medical, and accidents in confined spaces. The department maintains a life safety division that includes a site fire marshal (deputy chief) and deputy fire marshal (assistant chief) who ensure code compliance for all new and renovation construction work and investigate all fires to determine cause and origin.

In addition to the chief, deputy chief, and assistant chief, there are four operating shifts staffed by a captain and three firefighters who work rotating shifts to provide 24/7 fire protection coverage for the site. The captain is responsible for the day-to-day activities of the team and serves as incident commander, unless relieved by higher authority. Each member of the team holds professional certifications as a firefighter, emergency medical technician, and hazardous materials technician (OSHA 1910.120). One firefighter serves as training officer and is responsible for generating an annual department training calendar and developing lesson plans that are delivered at Emergency Brigade training sessions.

The fully trained 45-member brigade supports the fire department. Membership is voluntary, and members are expected to attend six eight-hour training sessions annually. Members of the brigade include process technicians, EHS professionals, engineering personnel, and scientists. Brigade members are trained as interior structural firefighters (NFPA 600) and hazardous materials technicians. Many members of the Emergency Brigade are affiliated with volunteer fire departments in their local communities.

Emergency Brigade members do not respond to every incident that occurs on site but, rather, are summoned to incidents at the discretion of the incident commander via alphanumeric pagers. The reason for this practice is to ensure that personnel from the various manufacturing operations team are not called away for every incident, which could place a significant burden on normal operations.

The fire department maintains two structural/foam pumpers, an advanced life support ambulance, a rescue truck, a 21-foot boat, a spill containment boom trailer, and several utility vehicles. The boat would be used on the neighboring Thames River to deploy the spill containment boom in the event of a release that might reach the waterway.

Non-Emergency Response Activity
While the primary purpose of the team is to respond to and mitigate emergency situations, the team performs several non-emergency activities that provide added value to the site. Examples of these activities include:

  • Sprinkler alarm testing of more than 100 systems and 350 valves
  • Manual alarm testing of more than 750 remote pull stations
  • SCBA inspections
  • Safety station inspections
  • Emergency phone testing
  • Confined space entry audits
  • Sprinkler system shutdown and restoration
  • Fire main shutdown and restoration
  • Fire prevention inspections

Confined space entry audits are a relatively new duty the team is performing to assist the EHS Team in ensuring each entry is performed within site guidelines. On any given day, an average of five confined space entries are performed on site. To evaluate compliance, firefighters conduct a random, unannounced audit of the work being performed.

During the audit, the firefighters review the confined space work permit, check the site for hazards, verify the air monitoring results, and assess the knowledge of the entry supervisor, entrant, and attendant. The entry can be immediately terminated should the audit reveal any significant safety concern. For minor issues, the team refers the matter to the Environmental, Health and Safety compliance group for follow-up.

The purpose of the audit is twofold. First, it ensures the personnel performing the entry are abiding by the site safety guidelines; second, it allows the firefighters to gain a better understanding of the work being performed and the characteristics of the entry site.

Training and Education
Training and education are crucial components to the success of the team. Fire department members participate in approximately 10 hours of training each month. Topics vary but can include a structural drill, an emergency medical topic, a hazardous materials topic, a technical rescue topic, or a procedure review.

Each topic is assigned to a team member who presents the training based on the objectives set in the training calendar. External resources have presented some of the training classes, and team members also have gone off site for special training opportunities that supplement the in-house training program.

The emergency brigade participates in six training sessions annually. The on-duty team presents the training, and attendance is mandatory. In a typical year, each brigade member will receive training in:

  • Live fire structural scenarios
  • Spill containment boom deployment
  • Confined space rescue
  • SCBA use and emergency procedures
  • Hazardous materials technician refresher course
  • CPR and basic first aid
  • Search and rescue techniques
  • Ventilation
  • Building and process familiarization tours

The goals of each training session are to provide an informative lesson on the subject matter and to practice the necessary skills through hands-on training. For example, each year, the fire department contracts with the regional fire school for use of its facility to perform live fire structural training. Scenarios are developed so they mimic "real life" on site.

Partnering With Our Community
Being an active partner in our community is a core Pfizer value. To support this value, the Pfizer Fire Department has taken an active role in many town and county activities.

The department has a reciprocal back-up agreement with the City of Groton Fire Department. In the event of a structure fire either in the city or on site, two firefighters from the unaffected department and an engine respond to provide back-up and to ensure compliance with the 2-IN/2-OUT component of OSHA 1910.134. The Pfizer Fire Department recently participated in a trench rescue training session sponsored by the City of Groton Fire Department and is taking an active role by sending personnel to support the city department at this type of incident.

On a county level, the Pfizer Fire Department supports the more than 100 fire departments located within New London County by making one of its structural foam pumpers available to assist at flammable liquid spills and fires. This unit is equipped with a 1,000-gallon foam concentrate tank, which applies a larger foam blanket than what is possible with county equipment. Several officers and members of the Pfizer Fire Department have been, or are, active participants on regional teams that are addressing specific issues such as:

  • Creation of a regional hazmat team
  • Developing and delivering training for rapid intervention teams
  • Assessing each department's heavy rescue capabilities and equipment
  • Assisting the local hospital in developing a mass decontamination plan and system

Support of this nature is critical as we all find it necessary do more with less. Collaboration among fire and rescue departments ensures that, when a significant event occurs, we are familiar with the personnel, capabilities, and equipment of the department that is coming to assist.

Conclusion
Every industrial facility is unique--different from not only other industrial facilities, but also from the other occupants of the community. Fire protection and the degree to which it is provided must be assessed and determined by the facilities' management teams. Look at the most important aspect of your operation and picture it being ravaged by the destructive power of fire. Do you have the resources available or in place to effectively extinguish the fire? If you don't, then it is time to take a closer look at this scenario and re-evaluate your fire protection needs.

This article originally appeared in the February 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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