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Oil Refinery and Petrochemical Fires - Do’s and Don’ts

Oil Refinery and Petrochemical Fires - Do’s and Don’ts
Oil Refinery and Petrochemical Fires - Do’s and Don’ts

Oil Refinery and Petrochemical Fires - Do’s and Don’ts

Petroleum refineries inherently pose a high risk of fire and explosion due to the processing and storage of highly flammable materials. Crude oil is a mixture of several hydrocarbons which are dangerous due to their flammable property and toxic content. In the refinery process, high temperature and pressure increase the risk. Petroleum products are handled in pipes, exchangers, pumps, tanks and columns at or above their autoignition temperature, so that if leaked, they ignite immediately.
Fighting fires in oil refineries and petrochemical industries is a great challenge even though competent firefighters with advanced firefighting equipment and a fire protection system available in installations. In the event of a major fire, additional skilled manpower is required and therefore operation and maintenance peoples should be trained in firefighting.
The concept of an auxiliary fire squad should be introduced in the organization. This is the group of operations and maintenance personnel trained in firefighting. The fire shift in-charge should organize regular firefighting training for auxiliary fire squad and should conduct a periodic fire drill to practice the firefighting operation.
It was experienced that in the event of a fire, there may be changes in the wind direction and other emergency circumstances, then the setup of fire apparatus should be changed to protect the firefighters from heat radiation and toxic gas exposure. Sometimes firefighters cannot manage the jets of water hoses, and when firefighting water comes in contact with hot equipment, it gets damaged by thermal shock. Such scenarios increase the risk of explosion.

Firefighting Do’s and Don’ts  - Refinery and petrochemical fires

Here are the Do’s and Don’ts of dealing with refineries and petrochemical fires


  1. During emergency depressurization and flaring, do take care to check flare area as it leads to very high velocity in flare line and can eventually lead to fireballs in Flare stack.
  2. The shift fire officer must assess the situation and consult operation shift in charge for effective firefighting.
  3. Always use DCP to extinguish the tank vent fires in FO tanks.
  4. Allow key response team members only at the emergency site and maintain standby/ additional manpower at the nearest emergency assembly point.
  5. Always ensure the cooling of nearby equipment/ area/structure in the event of major fire.
  6. The fire vehicle must be parked in up wind direction with a clear approach/exit.
  7. Place a water curtain around the source of the leak to confine the vapour cloud .
  8. Use water spray either from a groundwater monitor or by hose line with fog nozzle to disperse the vapour cloud.
  9. In the event of significant gas/vapour leak, vehicle traffic must be stopped in downwind.
  10. Firefighters entering the atmosphere of flammable gas must be covered with two hose streams water spray taking feed from two different sources.
  11. Ensure that all key response teams should wear SCBA in toxic vapour cloud area.
  12. Ensure that no victim is trapped in the affected area, if observed, immediately rescue to a safe location.
  13. Site incident commander must ensure continuous monitoring of the LEL in the event of toxic/flammable gas leak at downwind.
  14. Care must be taken NOT to put water in a heavy oil tank while fighting a fire, which reduces the risk of boil-over.
  15. In the event of crude oil storage tank fire, monitor the heat waves travel rate by observing the tank shell paint bubbling as well as density and colour of smoke. When the colour of smoke gets denser black and creating a sizzling sound, consider it a sign of boilover and immediately evacuate the area.


  1. Don’t use a solid water jet on high temperature process equipment and hot surface, thermal shock may cause damage to equipment and aggravate the emergency.
  2. Don’t use water on electrically energized equipment until isolation is achieved.
  3. Don’t use water/Foam on hydrocarbon (FO) stored above 100oC in the event of tank vent fire. Water can be converted into instant steam (the expansion of water to steam is 1:1700) and can blowup the roof of the storage tank.
  4. Don’t attempt to extinguish a gas fire (LPG and other heavier hydrocarbon gas/Vapour)  until the upstream/ downstream isolation is achieved. An LPG leak can form a vapour cloud and, after getting ignition may cause vapour cloud explosion which is more dangerous than a normal LPG fire.
  5. Don’t allow anyone to enter the flammable vapour cloud area.
  6. Don’t allow any vehicle including fire engines and ambulance in vapour cloud area.
  7. Don’t leave the fire hydrants under use un-attempted, water supply to firefighter branch man must be controlled by fire operator at the fire hydrant.
  8. Don’t remove the facemask of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) in the vapour cloud area.

Firefighting is a specialized job and regular fire drills and training make firefighters more proficient. Advances in the fire protection system, conducting regular fire mock drills, developing pre-fire plans, and updating the emergency management and response plan help the organization to prevent and protect the lives and assets of the company.
This Do's and Don'ts of oil refineries and petrochemicals firefighting can be shared with employees and workers to improve their firefighting skills.

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