Northwestern Ohio Volunteer Firemen’s Association regional fire school

This weekend I attended the Northwestern Ohio Volunteer Firemen’s Association regional fire school, held at Bowling Green State University, to take advantage of the special opportunity to hear Chief Scott Schroer and Asst Chief Jerry Merges share their first-hand experience with the 2003 silo explosion at Hoge Lumber. Because I use the NIOSH report and other public documentation from this particular incident in many of my training sessions for the forest products industry and those who respond to it, I had looked forward to this training session for a couple of months — and drove 4 hours one-way to attend it.

As many of you know, my day job involves work with forest products facilities very similar to Hoge, and we see fire situations with sawdust and chip silos with some regularity. The New Knoxville explosion involved a combustible dust product, and while it is still unknown if the explosion itself can be directly attributed to a dust event, it demonstrates that a fire involving combustible dust produces certain dynamics that can increase the risk of an explosion.

I strongly encourage anyone who has the potential to ever be involved with a silo fire to understand the dangers of these situations, and know what actions you should or should not take. Additionally, be sure you understand the dynamics of the products being stored, whether that involves a wood-based product or some other fire load.

In the fire service, many seem to be more and more consumed with “Monday morning quarterbacking” and pointing out faults than they are with learning something and moving forward. While I often express my opinions based on the observations I can make from afar, I work to be very objective in realizing I can never know every circumstance of an incident. Anytime that we can hear directly from those involved in an incident, I encourage you to do so.

Many thanks to Chiefs Schroer and Merges for sharing what was learned from this tragedy so that we might all work to do our jobs more safely and effectively when special circumstances warrant it.

As a reminder and on a related note, I will be presenting my session at FDIC on “Firefighter Precautions at Facilities with Combustible Dust” on April 9, 2014 in Indianapolis.

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