Thursday, 24 March 2011 23:13

Organizing for Fire Protection

Written By: Dheri, S.K.
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Private Emergency Organization

Profit is the main objective of any industry. To achieve this objective, an efficient and alert management and continuity of production are essential. Any interruption in production, for any reason, will adversely affect profits. If the interruption is the result of a fire or explosion, it may be long and may cripple the industry.

Very often, a plea is taken that the property is insured and loss due to fire, if any, will be indemnified by the insurance company. It must be appreciated that insurance is only a device to spread the effect of the destruction brought by fire or explosion on as many people as possible. It cannot make good the national loss. Besides, insurance is no guarantee of continuity of production and elimination or minimization of consequential losses.

What is indicated, therefore, is that the management must gather complete information on the fire and explosion hazard, evaluate the loss potential and implement suitable measures to control the hazard, with a view to eliminating or minimizing the incidence of fire and explosion. This involves the setting up of a private emergency organization.

Emergency Planning

Such an organization must, as far as possible, be considered from the planning stage itself, and implemented progressively from the time of selection of site until production has started, and then continued thereafter.

Success of any emergency organization depends to a large extent on the overall participation of all workers and various echelons of the management. This fact must be borne in mind while planning the emergency organization.

The various aspects of emergency planning are mentioned below. For more details, a reference may be made to the US National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Fire Protection Handbook or any other standard work on the subject (Cote 1991).

Stage 1

Initiate the emergency plan by doing the following:

  1. Identify and evaluate fire and explosion hazards associated with the transportation, handling and storage of each raw material, intermediate and finished products and each industrial process, as well as work out detailed preventive measures to counteract the hazards with a view to eliminating or minimizing them.
  2. Work out the requirements of fire protection installations and equipment, and determine the stages at which each is to be provided.
  3. Prepare specifications for the fire protection installation and equipment.


Stage 2

Determine the following:

  1. availability of adequate water supply for fire protection in addition to the requirements for processing and domestic use
  2. susceptibility of site and natural hazards, such as floods, earthquakes, heavy rains, etc.
  3. environments, i.e., the nature and extent of surrounding property and the exposure hazard involved in the event of a fire or explosion
  4. existence of private (works) or public fire brigade(s), the distance at which such fire brigade(s) is (are) located and the suitability of the appliances available with them for the risk to be protected and whether they can be called upon to assist in an emergency
  5. response from the assisting fire brigade(s) with particular reference to impediments, such as railway crossings, ferries, inadequate strength and (or) width of bridges in relation to the fire appliances, difficult traffic, etc.
  6. socio-political environment , i.e., incidence of crime, and political activities leading to law-and-order problems.


Stage 3

Prepare the layout and building plans, and the specifications of construction material. Carry out the following tasks:

  1. Limit the floor area of each shop, workplace, etc. by providing fire walls, fire doors, etc.
  2. Specify the use of fire-resistant materials for construction of building or structure.
  3. Ensure that steel columns and other structural members are not exposed.
  4. Ensure adequate separation between building, structures and plant.
  5. Plan installation of fire hydrants, sprinklers, etc. where necessary.
  6. Ensure the provision of adequate access roads in the layout plan to enable fire appliances to reach all parts of the premises and all sources of water for fire-fighting.


Stage 4

During construction, do the following:

  1. Acquaint the contractor and his or her employees with the fire risk management policies, and enforce compliance.
  2. Thoroughly test all fire protection installations and equipment before acceptance.


Stage 5

If the size of the industry, its hazards or its out-of-the-way location is such that a full-time fire brigade must be available on the premises, then organize, equip and train the required full-time personnel. Also appoint a full-time fire officer.

Stage 6

To ensure full participation of all employees, do the following:

  1. Train all personnel in the observance of precautionary measures in their day-to-day work and the action required of them upon an outbreak of fire or explosion. The training must include operation of fire-fighting equipment.
  2. Ensure strict observance of fire precautions by all concerned personnel through periodic reviews.
  3. Ensure regular inspection and maintenance of all fire protection systems and equipment. All defects must be rectified promptly.


Managing the emergency

To avoid confusion at the time of an actual emergency, it is essential that everyone in the organization knows the precise part that he (she) and others are expected to play during the emergency. A well-thought-out emergency plan must be prepared and promulgated for this purpose, and all concerned personnel must be made fully familiar with it. The plan must clearly and unambiguously lay down the responsibilities of all concerned and also specify a chain of command. As a minimum, the emergency plan should include the following:

1.      name of the industry

2.      address of the premises, with telephone number and a site plan

3.      purpose and objective of the emergency plan and effective date of its coming in force

4.      area covered, including a site plan

5.      emergency organization, indicating chain of command from the work manager on downwards

6.      fire protection systems, mobile appliances and portable equipment, with details

7.      details of assistance availability

8.      fire alarm and communication facilities

9.      action to be taken in an emergency. Include separately and unambiguously the action to be taken by:

  • the person discovering the fire
  • the private fire brigade on the premises
  • head of the section involved in the emergency
  • heads of other sections not actually involved in theemergency
  • the security organization
  • the fire officer, if any
  • the works manager
  • others

       10.     chain of command at the scene of incident. Consider all possible situations, and indicate clearly who is to assume command in each case, including the circumstances under which another organization is to be called in to assist.

11.      action after a fire. Indicate responsibility for:

  • recommissioning or replenishing of all fire protectionsystems, equipment and water sources
  • investigating the cause of fire or explosion
  • preparation and submission of reports
  • initiating remedial measures to prevent re-occurrence of similar emergency.


When a mutual assistance plan is in operation, copies of emergency plan must be supplied to all participating units in return for similar plans of their respective premises.

Evacuation Protocols

A situation necessitating the execution of the emergency plan may develop as a result of either an explosion or a fire.

Explosion may or may not be followed by fire, but in almost all cases, it produces a shattering effect, which may injure or kill personnel present in the vicinity and/or cause physical damage to property, depending upon the circumstances of each case. It may also cause shock and confusion and may necessitate the immediate shut-down of the manufacturing processes or a portion thereof, along with the sudden movement of a large number of people. If the situation is not controlled and guided in an orderly manner immediately, it may lead to panic and further loss of life and property.

Smoke given out by the burning material in a fire may involve other parts of the property and/or trap persons, necessitating an intensive, large-scale rescue operation/evacuation. In certain cases, large-scale evacuation may have to be undertaken when people are likely to get trapped or affected by fire.

In all cases in which large-scale sudden movement of personnel is involved, traffic problems are also created—particularly if public roads, streets or areas have to be used for this movement. If such problems are not anticipated and suitable action is not preplanned, traffic bottlenecks result, which hamper and retard fire extinguishment and rescue efforts.

Evacuation of a large number of persons—particularly from high-rise buildings—may also present problems. For successful evacuation, it is not only necessary that adequate and suitable means of escape are available, but also that the evacuation be effected speedily. Special attention should be given to the evacuation needs of disabled individuals.

Detailed evacuation procedures must, therefore, be included in the emergency plan. These must be frequently tested in the conduct of fire and evacuation drills, which may also involve traffic problems. All participating and concerned organizations and agencies must also be involved in these drills, at least periodically. After each exercise, a debriefing session must be held, during which all mistakes are pointed out and explained. Action must also be taken to prevent repetition of the same mistakes in future exercises and actual incidents by removing all difficulties and reviewing the emergency plan as necessary.

Proper records must be maintained of all exercises and evacuation drills.

Emergency Medical Services

Casualties in a fire or explosion must receive immediate medical aid or be moved speedily to a hospital after being given first aid.

It is essential that management provide one or more first-aid post(s) and, where necessary because of the size and hazardous nature of the industry, one or more mobile paramedical appliances. All first-aid posts and paramedical appliances must be staffed at all times by fully trained paramedics.

Depending upon the size of the industry and the number of workers, one or more ambulance(s) must also be provided and staffed on the premises for removal of casualties to hospitals. In addition, arrangement must be  made to ensure that additional ambulance facilities are available at short notice when needed.

Where the size of the industry or workplace so demands, a full-time medical officer should also be made available at all times for any emergency situation.

Prior arrangements must be made with a designated hospital or hospitals at which priority is given to casualties who are removed after a fire or explosion. Such hospitals must be listed in the emergency plan along with their telephone numbers, and the emergency plan must have suitable provisions to ensure that a responsible person shall alert them to receive casualties as soon as an emergency arises.

Facility Restoration

It is important that all fire protection and emergency facilities are restored to a “ready” mode soon after the emergency is over. For this purpose, responsibility must be assigned to a person or section of the industry, and this must be included in the emergency plan. A system of checks to ensure that this is being done must also be introduced.

Public Fire Department Relations

It is not practicable for any management to foresee and provide for all possible contingencies. It is also not economically feasible to do so. In spite of adopting the most up-to-date method of fire risk management, there are always occasions when the fire protection facilities provided on the premises fall short of actual needs. For such occasions, it is desirable to preplan a mutual assistance programme with the public fire department. Good liaison with that department is necessary so that the management knows what assistance that unit can provide during an emergency on its premises. Also, the public fire department must become familiar with the risk and what it could expect during an emergency. Frequent interaction with the public fire department is necessary for this purpose.

Handling of Hazardous Materials

Hazards of the materials used in industry may not be known to fire-fighters during a spill situation, and accidental discharge and improper use or storage of hazardous materials can lead to dangerous situations that can seriously imperil their health or lead to a serious fire or explosion. It is not possible to remember the hazards of all materials. Means of ready identification of hazards have, therefore, been developed whereby the various substances are identified by distinct labels or markings.

Hazardous materials identification

Each country follows its own rules concerning the labelling of hazardous materials for the purpose of storage, handling and transportation, and various departments may be involved. While compliance with local regulations is essential, it is desirable that an internationally recognized system of identification of hazardous materials be evolved for universal application. In the United States, the NFPA has developed a system for this purpose. In this system, distinct labels are conspicuously attached or affixed to containers of hazardous materials. These labels indicate the nature and degree of hazards in respect of health, flammability and the reactive nature of the material. In addition, special possible hazards to fire-fighters can also be indicated on these labels. For an explanation of the degree of hazard, refer to NFPA 704, Standard System for the Identification of the Fire Hazards of Materials (1990a). In this system, the hazards are categorized as health hazards, flammability hazards, and reactivity (instability) hazards.

Health hazards

These include all possibilities of a material causing personal injury from contact with or absorption into the human body. A health hazard may arise out of the inherent properties of the material or from the toxic products of combustion or decomposition of the material. The degree of hazard is assigned on the basis of the greater hazard that may result under fire or other emergency conditions. It indicates to fire-fighters whether they can work safely only with special protective clothing or with suitable respiratory protective equipment or with ordinary clothing.

Degree of health hazard is measured on a scale of 4 to 0, with 4 indicating the most severe hazard and 0 indicating low hazard or no hazard.

Flammability hazards

These indicate the susceptibility of the material to burning. It is recognized that materials behave differently in respect of this property under varying circumstances (e.g., materials that may burn under one set of conditions may not burn if the conditions are altered). The form and inherent properties of the materials influence the degree of hazard, which is assigned on the same basis as for the health hazard.

Reactivity (instability) hazards

Materials capable of releasing energy by itself, (i.e., by self-reaction or polymerization) and substances that can undergo violent eruption or explosive reactions on coming in contact with water, other extinguishing agents or certain other materials are said to possess a reactivity hazard.

The violence of reaction may increase when heat or pressure is applied or when the substance comes in contact with certain other materials to form a fuel-oxidizer combination, or when it comes in contact with incompatible substances, sensitizing contaminants or catalysts.

The degree of reactivity hazard is determined and expressed in terms of the ease, rate and quantity of energy release. Additional information, such as radioactivity hazard or prohibition of water or other extinguishing medium for fire-fighting, can also be given on the same level.

The label warning of a hazardous material is a diagonally placed square with four smaller squares (see figure 1).

Figure 1. The NFPA 704 diamond.


The top square indicates the health hazard, the one on the left indicates the flammability hazard, the one on the right indicates the reactivity hazard, and the bottom square indicates other special hazards, such as radioactivity or unusual reactivity with water.

To supplement the above mentioned arrangement, a colour code may also be used. The colour is used as background or the numeral indicating the hazard may be in coded colour. The codes are health hazard (blue), flammability hazard (red), reactivity hazard (yellow) and special hazard (white background).





Managing hazardous materials response

Depending on the nature of the hazardous material in the industry, it is necessary to provide protective equipment and special fire-extinguishing agents, including the protective equipment required to dispense the special extinguishing agents.

All workers must be trained in the precautions they must take and the procedures they must adopt to deal with each incident in the handling of the various types of hazardous materials. They must also know the meaning of the various identification signs.

All fire-fighters and other workers must be trained in the correct use of any protective clothing, protective respiratory equipment and special fire-fighting techniques. All concerned personnel must be kept alert and prepared to tackle any situation through frequent drills and exercises, of which proper records should be kept.

To deal with serious medical hazards and the effects of these hazards on fire-fighters, a competent medical officer should be available to take immediate precautions when any individual is exposed to unavoidable dangerous contamination. All affected persons must receive immediate medical attention.

Proper arrangements must also be made to set up a decontamination centre on the premises when necessary, and correct decontamination procedures must be laid down and followed.

Waste control

Considerable waste is generated by industry or because of accidents during handling, transportation and storage of goods. Such waste may be flammable, toxic, corrosive, pyrophoric, chemically reactive or radioactive, depending upon the industry in which it is generated or the nature of goods involved. In most cases unless proper care is taken in safe disposal of such waste, it may endanger animal and human life, pollute the environment or cause fire and explosions that may endanger property. A thorough knowledge of the physical and chemical properties of the waste materials and of the merits or limitations of the various methods of their disposal is, therefore, necessary to ensure economy and safety.

Properties of industrial waste are briefly summarized below:

  1. Most industrial waste is hazardous and can have unexpected significance during and after disposal. The nature and behavioural characteristics of all waste must therefore be carefully examined for their short- and long-term impact and the method of disposal determined accordingly.
  2. Mixing of two seemingly innocuous discarded substances may create an unexpected hazard because of their chemical or physical interaction.
  3. Where flammable liquids are involved, their hazards can be assessed by taking into consideration their respective flash points, ignition temperature, flammability limits and the ignition energy required to initiate combustion. In the case of solids, particle size is an additional factor that must be considered.
  4. Most flammable vapours are heavier than air. Such vapours and heavier-than-air flammable gases that may be accidentally released during collection or disposal or during handling and transportation can travel considerable distances with the wind or towards a lower gradient. On coming in contact with a source of ignition, they flash back to source. Major spills of flammable liquids are particularly hazardous in this respect and may require evacuation to save lives.
  5. Pyrophoric materials, such as aluminium alkyls, ignite spontaneously when exposed to air. Special care must therefore be taken in handling, transportation, storage and disposal of such materials, preferably carried out under a nitrogen atmosphere.
  6. Certain materials, such as potassium, sodium and aluminium alkyls, react violently with water or moisture and burn fiercely. Bronze powder generates considerable heat in the presence of moisture.
  7. The presence of potent oxidants with organic materials can cause rapid combustion or even an explosion. Rags and other materials soaked with vegetable oils or terpenes present a risk of spontaneous combustion due to the oxidation of oils and subsequent build-up of heat to the ignition temperature.
  8. Several substances are corrosive and may cause severe damage or burns to skin or other living tissues, or may corrode construction materials, especially metals, thereby weakening the structure in which such materials may have been used.
  9. Some substances are toxic and can poison humans or animals by contact with skin, inhalation or contamination of food or water. Their ability to do so may be short lived or may extend over a long period. Such substances, if disposed of by dumping or burning, can contaminate water sources or come into contact with animals or workers.
  10. Toxic substances that are spilled during industrial processing, transportation (including accidents), handling or storage, and toxic gases that are released into the atmosphere can affect emergency personnel and others, including the public. The hazard is all the more severe if the spilled substance(s) is vaporized at ambient temperature, because the vapours can be carried over long distances due to wind drift or run-off.
  11. Certain substances may emit a strong, pungent or unpleasant odour, either by themselves or when they are burnt in the open. In either case, such substances are a public nuisance, even though they may not be toxic, and they must be disposed of by proper incineration, unless it is possible to collect and recycle them. Just as odorous substances are not necessarily toxic, odourless substances and some substances with a pleasant odour may produce harmful physiological effects.
  12. Certain substances, such as explosives, fireworks, organic peroxides and some other chemicals, are sensitive to heat or shock and may explode with devastating effect if not handled carefully or mixed with other substances. Such substances must, therefore, be carefully segregated and destroyed under proper supervision.
  13. Waste materials that are contaminated with radioactivity can be as hazardous as the radioactive materials themselves. Their disposal requires specialized knowledge. Proper guidance for disposal of such waste may be obtained from a country’s nuclear energy organization.


Some of the methods that may be employed to dispose of industrial and emergency waste are biodegradation, burial, incineration, landfill, mulching, open burning, pyrolysis and disposal through a contractor. These are briefly explained below.


Many chemicals are completely destroyed within six to 24 months when they are mixed with the top 15 cm of soil. This phenomenon is known as biodegradation and is due to the action of soil bacteria. Not all substances, however, behave in this way.


Waste, particularly chemical waste, is often disposed of by burial. This is a dangerous practice in so far as active chemicals are concerned, because, in time, the buried substance may get exposed or leached by rain into water resources. The exposed substance or the contaminated material can have adverse physiological effects when it comes in contact with water that is drunk by humans or animals. Cases are on record in which water was contaminated 40 years after burial of certain harmful chemicals.


This is one of the safest and most satisfactory methods of waste disposal if the waste is burned in a properly designed incinerator under controlled conditions. Care must be taken, however, to ensure that the substances contained in the waste are amenable to safe incineration without posing any operating problem or special hazard. Almost all industrial incinerators require the installation of air pollution control equipment, which must be carefully selected and installed after taking into consideration the composition of the stock effluent given out by the incinerator during the burning of industrial waste.

Care must be taken in the operation of the incinerator to ensure that its operative temperature does not rise excessively either because a large amount of volatiles is fed or because of the nature of the waste burned. Structural failure can occur because of excessive temperature, or, over time, because of corrosion. The scrubber must also be periodically inspected for signs of corrosion which can occur because of contact with acids, and the scrubber system must be maintained regularly to ensure proper functioning.


Low-lying land or a depression in land is often used as a dump for waste materials until it becomes level with the surrounding land. The waste is then levelled, covered with earth and rolled hard. The land is then used for buildings or other purposes.

For satisfactory landfill operation, the site must be selected with due regard to the proximity of pipelines, sewer lines, power lines, oil and gas wells, mines and other hazards. The waste must then be mixed with earth and evenly spread out in the depression or a wide trench. Each layer must be mechanically compacted before the next layer is added.

A 50 cm layer of earth is typically laid over the waste and compacted, leaving sufficient vents in the soil for the escape of gas that is produced by biological activity in the waste. Attention must also be paid to proper drainage of the landfill area.

Depending on the various constituents of waste material, it may at times ignite within the landfill. Each such area must, therefore, be properly fenced off and continued surveillance maintained until the chances of ignition appear to be remote. Arrangements must also be made for extinguishing any fire that may break out in the waste within the landfill.


Some trials have been made for reusing polymers as mulch (loose material for protecting the roots of plants) by chopping the waste into small shreds or granules. When so used, it degrades very slowly. Its effect on the soil is, therefore, purely physical. This method has, however, not been used widely.

Open burning

Open burning of waste causes pollution of the atmosphere and is hazardous in as much as there is a chance of the fire getting out of control and spreading to the surrounding property or areas. Also, there is a chance of explosion from containers, and there is a possibility of harmful physiological effects of radioactive materials that may be contained in the waste. This method of disposal has been banned in some countries. It is not a desirable method and should be discouraged.


Recovery of certain compounds, by distillation of the products given out during pyrolysis (decomposition by heating) of polymers and organic substances, is possible, but not yet widely adopted.

Disposal through contractors

This is probably the most convenient method. It is important that only reliable contractors who are knowledgeable and experienced in the disposal of industrial waste and hazardous materials are selected for the job. Hazardous materials must be carefully segregated and disposed of separately.

Specific classes of materials

Specific examples of the types of hazardous materials that are often found in today’s industry include: (1) combustible and reactive metals, such as magnesium, potassium, lithium, sodium, titanium and zirconium; (2) combustible refuse; (3) drying oils; (4) flammable liquids and waste solvents; (5) oxidizing materials (liquids and solids); and (6) radioactive materials. These materials require special handling and precautions that must be carefully studied. For more details on identification of hazardous materials and hazards of industrial materials, the following publications may be consulted: Fire Protection Handbook (Cote 1991) and Sax’s Dangerous Properties of Industrial Materials (Lewis 1979).



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Part I. The Body
Part II. Health Care
Part III. Management & Policy
Part IV. Tools and Approaches
Part V. Psychosocial and Organizational Factors
Part VI. General Hazards
Barometric Pressure Increased
Barometric Pressure Reduced
Biological Hazards
Disasters, Natural and Technological
Heat and Cold
Hours of Work
Indoor Air Quality
Indoor Environmental Control
Radiation: Ionizing
Radiation: Non-Ionizing
Visual Display Units
Part VII. The Environment
Part VIII. Accidents and Safety Management
Part IX. Chemicals
Part X. Industries Based on Biological Resources
Part XI. Industries Based on Natural Resources
Part XII. Chemical Industries
Part XIII. Manufacturing Industries
Part XIV. Textile and Apparel Industries
Part XV. Transport Industries
Part XVI. Construction
Part XVII. Services and Trade
Part XVIII. Guides

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