In the wake of a fatal $1-million fire at a Fairfax City gasoline storage depot, officials of two oil companies have told city officials and local residents that they will install automatic fire-extinguishing foam or sprinkling systems at each of their loading docks. City officials say they expect officials of two other companies to take similar steps.
Rep. Joseph L. Fisher, D-Arlington, joined by a group of oil company officials, a local resident and Assistant Fairfax City Manager Robert Norris, toured the charred remains of Amoco gasoline loading facilities and inspected working docks at the Gulf depot last Friday.
Fisher suggested three procedures to prevent or better contain future fires. First, tank trucks should be required to wait a few minutes before going into the loading dock, so that any spill can be cleaned up. Second, industry or government could regulate the speed at which the trucks are filled, so automatic cut-off mechanisms designed to prevent spillovers work more effectively. And finally, automatic foam or sprinkling systems should be installed on the docks to smother the fire quickly once it begins.
Since the fire, the civic associations of two nearby subdivisions have met with city and Amoco officials. Little River Hills Civic Association president A. David Rodgers said his group split, with some members critical of the oil companies while others "feel that we're not in any great danger of a fire from that depot coming up this way."
Michael Dyer, a member who represented the Little River Hills group on Friday's tour, was critical. He said that while he was happy with what the oil companies are planning to do now, he was "dismayed that these steps have not been taken years ago."
There are several safety measures that the companies have undertaken or will be undertaking, chiefly as the result of a 1975 report to Farifax City by fire protection engineer Wayne Carson.
Carson recommended that perimeter access roads be built around each company's facility. Amoco has built such a road and the other companies were reported to have similar projects in the design or planning stage.
He also suggested installation of a foam injection system that will allow fire trucks to hook into pipes that will send foam into the hige gasoline storage tanks in case of a fire in a tank.
Finally, Carson suggested automatic fire-extinguishing systems on the loading docks. This has been uppermost in residents' minds because they believe such a system could have contained and extinguished the Amoco fire.
Amoco terminal manager Earl R. Wood promised Little River Hills residents at their association meeting last week that the new Amoco dock would have a fire foam system automated by heat detectors. He said such a system had been designed for the old loading dock before the fire.
Gulf terminal manager Thomas Fox told Fisher nad the others on his tour last Friday that he had submitted a $200,000 budget request for a similar automatic foam or sprinkling system. Though the company must formally approved his request, he said he expected no problem, especially because of the recent Amoco fire.
Norris said the city planned to talk with officials of the other two companies, Texaco and Citgo. and he expected them also install such systems. When Carson, the city consultant, makes his recommendation on whether a foam or sprinkling system will be best, the city will ask the companies to follow his recommendation, Norris said.
Dyer called the planned safety measures "basic safety precautions." He said the oil companies should also invest in a better foam truck similar to the one called in from Dulles airport to put out the Amoco depot fire.
While the Fairfax Volunteer Fire Department's foam truck, which was purchased by the oil companies for the department 13 years ago, arrived on the scene within three minutes, a loose or broken bolt prevented the truck form working and putting out the fire.
The bolt has been fixed, and Norris said the department plans to overhaul the truck to increase its capacity. He said he expected the oil companies would pay the $15,000 cost of the overhaul. Howere, Wood said the city has never suggested purchase of a newer or bigger truck, and Norris said the current truck is adequate.
Dyer said he thought the oil companies should buy a better foam truck. He brushed aside the question of expense, saying the companies "should be willing to invest whatever is necessary to protect the surrounding areas from danger," especially because Woodson High School and a large number of residences are located nearby.
"They told us in the past they had all the equipment they needed," he said. "Well, the first time they needed the foam truck, it didn't work. I still can't understand why they aren't buying a truck like the one they have at Dulles Airport. I think we are talking about something that's as dangerous as a large aircraft crash - a fire at a large fuel facility."
The Fairfax County fire marshall reported that the Amoco fire occured because of a spillover of gasoline from one tank truck. When a second truck entered the loading area, fumes from the spilled gasoline kept the second truck's diesel motor running and the gasoline vapor then ignited in the stack of the second truck.
The driver of the first truck, Newton Leaphart, 43, of College Park, was engulfed in flames immediately and died of the burns. Fire investigator Wayne Logan said neither the proper operation of the volunteer fire department's foam truck nor the operation of automatic fire-extinguishing equipment like that which is promised would have saved Leaphart. Howere, an automatic foam or sprinkling system would have contained and extinguished the fire sooner. CAPTION: Picture, The $1 million fire that engulfed the Amoco dock of a gas storage depot in Fairfax City on June 23 has caused officials to seek new safety measures. By Don Hubbard for The Washington Post