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Fire at a chemical company

Category: International Firefighting Team of the Year

Fire department: Hasičský záchranný sbor Libereckého kraje (Liberec, Czech Republic)

Operation: Fire at chemical company

The fire brigade was called to extinguish a fire in Liberec on 29 May 2017 at the Severochema building, the chemical production company. This mission is notable not just because of its extreme intensity and the danger for firefighters, but also because its success represents the most extraordinary event of the history of Liberec Fire Brigade. 

During the intervention, the firefighters were exposed to the fire where flammable liquids were stored: 70 tonnes of hazardous material such as kerosene, S6000, S6001 and S6300, butanol & gasoline cleaners.

The fire originated in the area of flammable liquids bottling plant and quickly spread to the storage area. The development of the fire led to high values of radiant heat, explosions of 200 litre flasks filled with flammable liquids, and the flow of burning liquids after overflowing from the fire-damaged large tanks outside the catch pit. All 18 large-volume tanks for flammable liquids were immediately at risk. Out of this total, a total of 9 were visibly burning. The tanks were made of steel, one was sheathed. 

Due to the radiant heat, the fire spread to the immediately adjacent building of the production hall. The location of a company within the city's urban area, relatively close to the city centre & residential areas meant a high threat to the population by the effects of fire, including explosions of large-capacity tanks of flammable liquids and high concentrations of combustion gases.

Fire extinguishing intervention

The Commander of the Liberec station, Commander Roman Koželuh became the commander of the incident after his arrival at the accident area, which was divided into three sections:

  1. First section: the space of the flammable liquids storage with the most intense burning zone with the flammable liquids
  2. Second section: Defended space of 10 threatened large-volume tanks outside the fire zone
  3. Third section: Attempting to extinguish the fire in a production hall

Height access was installed in order to stop the fire spreading to the roof structures in the production hall in the third section.

The intervention was conducted with the help of the VZ staff and in the framework of its activities, which primarily included tasks to analyse the current situation with regard to the deployment of firefighters, measures to protect the population and the environment, securing a sufficient number of firefighters for individual sections, the public and the media. 

Other institutions in the IZS Liberec Region, in particular the National Police and the Municipal Police in Liberec, were involved in the intervention, which ensured the closure of the intervention site and adjacent roads, including the evacuation of the inhabitants from the property threatened by the combustion fumes, and the LK Medical Emergency Service, which created a mobile station to potentially treat any affected firefighters.

Immediately after increasing the number of units to secure the water supply, the fire was contained due to the extreme deployment of firefighters. The intervention of the firefighters was very fast and successful due to its considerable extent - the fire was contained 120 minutes after arrival of the first firefighter to the scene.

Basic intervention parameters

  • Notification time: 12:09.
  • Arrival time of the first firefighter: 12:14.
  • Deployment time of the first water streams: 12:18.
  • Time of containment: 14:14.
  • Time when the fire was extinguished: 20:00.
  • Fire area: 500 m2
  • Number of deployed firefighters: 27
  • Extinguishing media: 425,000 litres of water + 7,260 litres of foaming agent
  • Respiratory consumption: 75 pressure cylinders
  • Injured persons: 2
  • Damage: 109 million CZK
  • Direct damage: 71.5 million CZK
  • Amount rescued: 71.3 million CZK

Out of the total number of 18 large-volume tanks for flammable liquids, a total of 9 tanks were in the direct operation of the flame, of which only 3 tanks were damaged and thereafter only burnt, the company restarted production approximately 14 days after the fire.

In the framework of the intervention analysis, basic factors were identified which positively influenced the success of the firefighting intervention: 

  • the decision-making process of the commander of the intervention consisting of the astute deployment of offensive and protective streams and their regrouping during the intervention
  • personal deployment of firefighters into offensive and defensive streams,
  • fast concentration of the necessary firefighters to extinguish the fire.

The decision to deploy firefighters on both offensive and defensive streams, and above all their personal bravery and resistance to extreme conditions caused by radiant heat, was judged to be the decisive factor for the successful containment of the fire.