February 22, 2018 | Ken Reed

‘Equipment Failure’ is the cause?

Fire, equipment. failure

Drone view of tank farm fire Photo: West Fargo Fire Department

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Sunday, there was a diesel fuel oil fire at a tank farm in West Fargo, ND. About 1200 barrels of diesel leaked from the tank.  The fire appears to have burned for about 9 hours or so.  They had help from fire dapartments from the local airport and local railway company, and drone support from the National Guard.  There were evacuations of nearby residents.  Soil remediation is in progress, and operations at the facility have resumed.  Read more about the story here.

The fire chief said it looks like there was a failure of the piping and pumping system for the tank. He said that the owners of the tank are investigating. However, one item caught my attention. He said, “In the world of petroleum fires, it wasn’t very big at all. It might not get a full investigation.”

This is a troublesome statement.  Since it wasn’t a big, major fire, and no one was seriously hurt, it doesn’t warrent an investigation.  However, just think of all the terrific lessons learned that could be discovered and learned from.  How major a fire must it be in order to get a “full investigation?”

I often see people minimize issues that were just “equipment failures.”  There isn’t anyone to blame, no bad people to fire, it was just bad equipment.  We’ll just chalk this one up to “equipment failure” and move on.  In this case, that mindset can cause people to ignore the entire accident, and that determining it was equipment failure is as deep as we need to go.

Don’t get caught in this trap.  While I’m sure the tank owner is going to go deeper, I encourage the response teams to do their own root cause analyses to determine if their response was adequate, if notifications correct, if they had reliable lines of communications with external aganecies, etc.  It’s a great opportunity to improve, even if it was only “equipment failure,” and even if you are “only” the response team.

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