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Everything you need to know about firewater containment  in under seven and a half minutes. If you prefer to read the transcript is below.

Knowledge Bank

Everything you need to know about firewater containment  in under seven and a half minutes. If you prefer to read the transcript is below.

What is Firewater Containment? (Transcription)

Hello, my name is David Cole and I’m technical director of Sandfield Penstock Solutions and to day I’m gonna talk to you today about Firewater Containment. 

What is Firewater Containment?

Firewater containment is a subject that a lot of companies now are getting involved with and being asked about specifically from the Environment Agency. What really you gotta look at is what happens if your building, your factory, your business is on fire and where does that run off, that could be from the firefighting materials, it could be your sprinkler system, it could be the fact that it’s raining at the same time that you’ve got a fire and all the materials that you’ve got that have melted are picking up in the rainwater and flowing off your site.

Why is Firewater Containment necessary?

Well, firewater containment is necessary because it is actually a cocktail of chemicals. So, for instance if your factory was producing computers and you’ve got a fire, those computers are full of all sorts of hazardous chemicals and as they break down in the heat, we could be looking at 1400 degrees, melting. That material then becomes a liquid, potentially, picks up with whatever it is you’re trying to put the fire out with and is flowing out of the building at some point it potentially will leave the building. Once it leaves the building, it’s going to enter the normal drainage systems that are there, that’ll flow out and normally enter local streams and rivers, even to the ocean and you are responsible for any pollution that you cause because it is a criminal offence and just having a fire is not an excuse even though it’s pretty much an unforeseen event. It’s not an excuse for the pollution that you may cause. 

Why should sites be worried about firewater containment?

There’s a real issue about firewater containment and the pollution that it causes. We’re seeing now more and more in the media that people, the public, are starting to ask questions about the long-term effects of pollution. So, when there’s a major incident and a fire takes place and this runoff enters the water it can be there for not just a few weeks, not a few months, but it can be there for hundreds of years and the impact can be felt by generations to come. So, what we have to look at is when we have a pollution incident and we have a run off from a fire, it’s what is the long-term effect? That effect, if it’s damaging to the environment or public health, the business concerned is probably going to have to pay for any remediation. So, keeping that under control and reducing the impact on the environment is a cost-effective way to move forward. 

What sort of volumes should we expect in the event of a fire?

When we look at fire it’s always been a difficult subject to look at and I’m gonna go back a little bit now to a case in 2005 when a Buncefield oil storage depo exploded and had a major fire. The biggest impact really on the environment was the firewater runoff that wasn’t contained because they failed to contain it and the actual impact that it caused. What that meant was that we had to rewrite guidance and start looking at how industry looked at the volume of firewater. So, to make it a little bit easier and to give you, sort of, the figures, you’ve got the material that you’ve got on your site. So, this could be, this could be beer, it could be cheese, it could be milk, it could be anything. But that material stock, then we look at what you’re going to use to put the fire out. Is it that you’ve got a sprinkler system, have you got the fire brigade turning up and putting 7,000 litres of water, 20,000 litres, nobody really knows but you could ask that subject. But then we also need to look at what happens if it rains at the same time that you’ve got that fire. So that volume can suddenly increase enormously especially if your business is a large surface area, a large, sort of, catch point area. So, what you’ve got is there aren’t good guidance notes and we’ve worked with the CIRIA 736 guidance which comes from the Buncefield incident which gives you a volume. This firewater runoff volume can be huge and what you need to really start is a benchmark in what the guidance asks to look at is how much rain you would have in a one in ten year storm event  a really serious rainstorm event at the same time as a fire at the same time you’ve got the fire brigade and you’ve got firefighting measures and you’ve got a lot of stock covering your area. So, the volumes could be huge so you need to be understanding what would be in the impact if you actually had in your business that type of event. 

How long should we expect to have to contain firewater?

Well, again I’m going to go back to the guidance because when we had this incident at Buncefield, one of the things that came from it was nobody really knew what it looked like and nobody really set out a how long do we need to control it for? So, what happened was you’ve got a site that’s got loads of pollutants there and within a few days, well, we’ve got nowhere else to put the pollutants. We’re just going to have to let it go, what do we do, and that caused a major pollution incident. So, what we look at really is to look at a site saying, you’re going to have an incident the duration of that fire, 24 hours, which is why we are actually trying to put the fire out. But after that, let’s look at a week, let’s look at 8 days is the recommendation set out in the guidance which actually starts for say 8 days, how are you going to manage that site bearing in mind that you might have lots of nasty chemicals, a mix of cocktails of all sorts of stock and materials flowing around everywhere is how long can you hold that for. So, we try to look at 8 days of how you would manage that entire volume of material whether that’s removing it off-site with tankers and clean-up operations, putting it into temporary lagoons. But you need to be looking at quite a lengthy period of this damping down period before your site probably is able to open up, let’s say, the drainage to allow flow again which is obviously a clean, just, surface water of flow. 

What can businesses do to prepare for firewater containment?

Well this is quite an interesting area because prior to the Buncefield incident, there wasn’t really a lot of assessment going on. It was very much a guesswork, an assumption-based process. And the beautiful thing about the guidance was that it created a benchmark. So, what we look at there is, we look at saying we can use modern technology which is what we use as a business which is the spill-modelling process that we do. Where we actually look at what does that volume of material look like? How does it come down to the site when we’ve actually blocked the drainage, we’ve blocked the sides, we’ve put the barriers et cetera in place. So, you can actually then look at what an incident physically looks like. Once you understand what the actual incident looks like, you can still develop your plan around it. So, before you really should start implementing a solution you have to understand how big that problem might be. Once you’ve understood what that problem looks like, you can then develop your plan to go forwards to develop your containment scheme. 

What should people do if they want to know more about firewater containment?

It’s quite simple, really. You can go to our website www.penstocksolutions.co.uk and we’ve got a section on spill mapping which is perfect for firewater containment. It will show you some of the sites we’ve done previously where we’ve looked and we’ve developed a scheme to actually understand the size of the problem and then show them where they need to put pollution containment devices, toggle blocks (7:03), valves, where they need to look at their above ground controls. So, on our website you can certainly contact me there. There’s a number on the website which you can contact me direct through and speak to any member of our team. I look forward to hearing from you.

David Cole MSEE

David Cole MSEE

Technical Director

David is a pioneer of the spill containment and water pollution prevention industry with 30 years experience. He was instrumental in the development of CIRIA736 with The Environment Agency and is passionate about preventing water pollution.

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