Phillips 66 classes give firefighters real-world experience

By Bernardo Fallas
Phillips 66 Corporate Communications

Battling 40-foot flames. Rushing into a pitch-dark room 600 degrees hot. Doing it while donning 50 pounds of gear on a scorching Texas afternoon.

This is how first responders spend their days in firefighting classes sponsored by Phillips 66.

“It never gets old,” said Jorge Paredes, a 30-year veteran of emergency response at Borger Refinery, in the Texas Panhandle. “We take this seriously.”

Paredes was among more than 250 firefighters — from both inside and outside Phillips 66 — to attend the classes recently at the state-of-the-art Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service’s Brayton Fire Field in College Station.

Pipelines. Storage tanks. Distillation columns. Name the prop, they burned it.

“It’s as close to a real-life emergency as we can simulate in an environment that allows us to train and educate our responders,” Phillips 66 Director of Crisis Management Steve Pepper said.

‘Our brothers at Phillips 66’

The company held its weeklong Corporate Fire School at the College Station facility for 200 Phillips 66 firefighters and 20 responders from community fire departments and state entities, such as the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention and the Louisiana State Police.

Phillips 66 also hosted more than 30 Houston-area volunteer firefighters and TEEX cadets for a demonstration class on atmospheric tank safety and emergency response.

The outreach to firefighters underscores the company’s commitment to safety and to the communities in which it operates.

“We want to give them as much knowledge as possible for a successful response,” said Ami Van Nostrand, a fire protection specialist with Phillips 66. “The more tools they can have in their toolbox for a successful response really helps us in the long run.”

For Kevin Moran with the Elizabeth Fire Department in New Jersey, near the Phillips 66 Bayway Refinery, the school was a unique opportunity to train on industrial-scale fires — and bring the knowledge back to his colleagues.

“You never know when they might have a large event (in or around Elizabeth),” Moran said. “Our brothers at Phillips 66 are very good to us in providing all kinds of training.”

A timely addition

The class on storage-tank safety, held as part of the 44th annual Harris County Fire Fighters Association’s Field Days, covered the basics of atmospheric tanks, including hazards and safety systems, and wrapped up with a demonstration of how to extinguish a full-surface burn on a 45-foot prop tank.

The class, which had been in the works since late 2018, proved timely given recent storage tank incidents in the Houston area. These include the March fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company along the Houston Ship Channel and an April explosion at a KMCO chemical plant in Crosby, northeast of Houston, that killed one worker.

For Mike Mulligan, chief of department at Atascocita, a community of more than 65,000 dotted with tanks and pump jacks, the class was a much-needed addition.

“We hadn’t done anything with this level of instruction,” said Mulligan, who also presides over the HCFFA, which is made up of 74 fire departments. “The value of Phillips 66’s involvement this year is multi-layer. Having that kind of help and engagement from an industrial partner is invaluable.”