What I learned at the NFPA Conference – Combustible Dust: Firefighting Precautions, Part 1
Recently, I attended the NFPA Conference in Chicago. This event is always a valuable experience for me and I thought I would take the time to put together a few posts that focus on what I learned from some of this year’s educational sessions.
During the conference, I attended a session called “Combustible Dust: Firefighting Precautions” that was given by Mat Chibbaro. Mat is a fire protection engineer with the Occupational Safety and Health Association’s (OSHA) national office and a part-time fire protection lecturer at the University of Maryland.
Why Focus on Combustible Dust Firefighter Precautions?
Mat’s presentation focused primarily on firefighting considerations to prevent combustible dust explosions, as each year there are a number of firefighters and emergency workers that are injured, or killed, while responding to calls at facilities with combustible dust. When provided with adequate information and training concerning the explosive nature of combustible dust, emergency responders are more likely to handle these types of incidents in a safer and more effective manner.
The presentation began with an overview of the fundamentals of combustible dust explosion risks and listed common combustible dusts that are well understood by firefighters, like wood dust, coal dust, flour, metals, and more. Mat went on to discuss several uncommon combustible dusts that are not well understood by firefighters, which include rubber, nylon, sugar, powdered milk, and pharmaceuticals. The presentation also covered the mechanics of flash fire, explosions, and the extreme risk associated with a secondary explosion, as well as the mechanics underlying a secondary explosion event.
OSHA Eyes Combustible Dust
Mat explained that OSHA began to increase their scrutiny of industries that handle combustible dust after three explosions occurred in 2003 that resulted in 14 deaths. Attention grew even more after the 2008 Imperial Sugar Plant explosion in Georgia that resulted in 14 more deaths. There are several more examples of combustible dust explosions that have resulted specifically in firefighter fatalities and injuries throughout the years including:
- Coal storage silo explosion in South Dakota (2011), killing two firefighters and injuring one;
- Dumpster at a foundry explosion in Wisconsin (2008), killing one firefighter and injuring eight;
- Sawdust explosion at a boat plant in Maryland (2005), severely burning four firefighters; and
- Silo explosion at a lumber company in Ohio (2003), killing two firefighters and injuring eight
If you are interested in learning more about combustible dust and firefighter precautions, checkout Part 2 of this post, which will review how fire departments can handle combustible dust incidents and my top takeaways from Mat’s presentation.
By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.