When you think of the fire brigade, you quickly think of the (voluntary) fire brigade in your area. But did you know that we have a professional fire brigade organization and that they are on standby 24/7 and monitor safety on the site, for our employees and for the environment? Nico Ottink (Operational Manager Company Fire Brigade Leader at Dow) explains what that entails.
Why does Dow have a company fire department?
On our site we make plastic and chemicals for many applications that we all use every day, for example for mattresses and telephones. To guarantee safe production for both our employees and our environment, we have our own company fire brigade. We even have the largest professional fire brigade organization in Zeeland on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Practice, practice and practice
Our fire brigade colleagues need a lot of knowledge about the different factories, the production processes and the substances that are used and made there, so training is very important. Nico explains why it is so important that this happens and how it works. "Within our organization we work with chemicals, so it is very important that our employees are well trained to handle these substances safely. We do everything we can to prevent anything from happening, but it is also important to be well prepared for unplanned activities. We therefore practice a lot, at least 2 hours a day consists of exercises. When we do training with a factory, it can be unexpected exercises, but almost always they are planned exercises. The crew on duty knows there is a drill, but not what is going to happen. The factory, where the exercise is held, does not know what is happening either. Very important during this training is the cooperation between the plant and the fire brigade. Each plant has an Immediate Response Leader (IRL). Within the factory, he is in charge when an unplanned situation arises. Our fire team commander is in contact with the IRL and is in charge of the incident until a senior manager arrives on scene. During the exercise, the triangle factory/fire brigade/emergency center is very important. Reports are received in the emergency center. Several departments come together here to make the right plan of action. If the communication between the three parties runs smoothly, a quick response can be made. In line with our contingency plan, we practice at least four times a year with each factory on the site. In this way we ensure that everyone is well aware of the possible risks and how to prevent them."
Nico continues: "5 times a year there is a large exercise in which several factories practice at the same time. The government fire brigade also participates in large exercises. The external emergency services, such as the Veiligheidsregio Zeeland (VRZ) and our own medical service, then practice, so that everyone well coordinated."
Business Support Team
Our fire brigade colleagues are well trained and used to something, but the work as a rescuer can be emotionally taxing. Nico: "That is why we practice with the Business Support Team. Within Dow, an unplanned situation is discussed afterwards and if there is a need for it from those involved in an incident, professional help is possible through this special team. We are doing everything we can to be as prepared as possible."
Fire alarm control panels
Nico tells more about what is being done on the site to ensure safety. "Many safety systems and installations are active in the factories that continuously monitor our process systems. If a deviation occurs, automatic safety systems come into operation in many cases and this incident is also automatically signaled. This can result in a report being is done towards our emergency center. This way we can respond quickly. Important systems are the fire alarm control panels. There are 80 to 90 of these, which in turn are branched out to about 1000 detectors across the site. In addition, there are also many sprinkler systems. A sprinkler system is an automatic fire extinguishing system. These are checked and tested by the fire service every 4 months."
Nico continues: "When an automatic report arrives at the emergency center, they immediately report it to us and then we go for it. In most cases it is a false report. It then appears, for example, that someone is working somewhere and the system responds to it. When something is going on, there are several numbers that can be called. For example, there is a number for emergencies and another number for reports of odor nuisance, for example. If deployment of the company fire brigade is required, a report will be made to the Operational Center Security Region/Fire Brigade (VRZ/OCB) in Bergen op Zoom. In the event that the government fire brigade comes to our site, they will have operational control (they are operationally responsible) for the incident, but we will of course continue to work closely together (deployment with our equipment) to keep the impact as minimal as possible."
Dow has a great deal of expertise in the field of firefighting, such as various large foam extinguishing vehicles, a gas suit team and the Basic Decontamination Unit. That is also the difference between a government fire brigade and the fire brigade at Dow. Nico explains: "With us, due to the production processes, an incident is much more complex than when a government fire brigade has to take action outside the Industrial Park. The fire brigade colleagues from our corps have gained a lot of knowledge of the chemistry at the various factories. is more complicated for us, you can also tell by the equipment because it is specifically designed for the activities at the Industry park. This is also the case the other way around. The equipment of the government fire brigade can only be deployed on our site to a limited extent. They can, however, provide support in the field of staff."
Cooperation agreement Platform Industrial Incident response (PII)
A number of years ago, the Platform Industrial Incident response was set up. A cooperation agreement was signed at the end of 2022 to further strengthen the close ties. We regularly organize site visits to ensure good cooperation within the PII and to learn from each other. On May 31 this year (2023), the PII partners visited our Industry park for a tour, an introduction to our organization and we test the fire systems so that we can connect them. On 1 June we went to Sitech, on 7 June we visited Shell and at the end of June we gathered at the joint Rotterdam-Rijnmond fire brigade.