Using Your Crystal Ball

Does your size-up typically look beyond the moment you arrive? With a good working fire, this may be an obvious part of a response. But what about for those responses where we arrive and believe there to be no fire? If nothing is burning, is there really anything to size-up?

While a good size-up should give us a clear picture of what we have and what we need to do to mitigate the situation, we must also consider the events that we may or may not actually see happening, as well as those that may or may not still occur as an incident progresses. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to look into the future — just a willingness to admit that even when we believe nothing to be happening, things can still happen. And when it comes to large properties, like factories or industrial facilities, a good pre-incident survey and planning activity can help take specific hazards into account prior to a needed response.


An industrial explosion occurred in a Pennsylvania metals plant late Friday evening, killing one and injuring a number of others. Reports stated that police and fire officials arrived shortly after the explosion, finding no fire. Reading through the news coverage today, one thing in particular has caught my eye in the photos and videos from the incident. In almost every shot, we can see multiple pieces of equipment that comprise an extensive dust collection system around the exterior of the building. And adjacent to one system appears to be the staging area for responding apparatus. If you recall what we know about dust filtration units, they are typically engineered with explosion venting around the exterior of the unit, as you can see in the photos.


In this particular incident, responders may have known that the explosion occurred in an area that was properly isolated from the dust system that we can see in these photos. Even if this response did not involve the dust system, this is a great example of where the first-arriving units to this type of incident must be thinking about the potential for an extension of fire within the given manufacturing systems. Fire drawn into a dust collection system could set up the conditions needed for a catastrophic dust explosion. If the duct systems are still operating at the time of arrival, any fire that may have been blown into a duct could be drawn into a filter house. An explosion of a filter unit would result in fire and concussive force being vented from the explosion-relief panels, potentially harming personnel and damaging apparatus.

With manufacturing and industrial facilities, the same mentality must be in place for every run, whether we’re talking about a dust collection system or some other hazard that could harm our personnel. Pre-incident surveys and pre-plans are a great way to address these concerns prior to making a response into a manufacturing facility. By doing a facility pre-plan, you can better determine apparatus placement to avoid exposing personnel or equipment to a potential hazard — be that an explosion, chemical release, or other known concern.

For additional information on pre-emergency planning and inspection of manufacturing and industrial facilities, attend my pre-conference workshop at FDIC International in Indianapolis on Monday, April 20.


More information on this incident above at:

Ephrata man killed in Caernarvon Township explosion

Timet industrial plant explosion kills one person

Victim identified in fatal explosion Timet plant near Morgantown

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