Firefighters need better training on how to prevent and control chemical fires, an Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) researcher said yesterday.
“I think even firefighters need to learn how to deal with this [the gas pipeline explosions in Greater Kaohsiung last week],” said Tseng Fan-ming, administrator of the materials and chemical industrial division of the institute’s Industrial Economics and Knowledge Center.
It is difficult for firefighters to identify what kind of gas is leaking when a gas leak is reported because different kinds of highly flammable petrochemical products, such as ethylene, propene — also known as propylene — and butane, are identified using different tests and different equipment.
A fire caused by a propylene leak is classified as a chemical fire, and in situations where there is a proplylene leak, firefighters may actually be putting themselves in greater danger by spraying water to dissipate the gas, as some Kaohsiung firefighters did right before the explosions began on Thursday night last week, Tseng said.
Water can carry propylene, which is lighter than water, and spread it further via the sewage system, increasing the risk area, he said.
The best way to prevent or control a chemical fire caused by a propylene leak is to spray foam or sand on the source, Tseng said.
An emergency notification system is needed to ensure that the firefighters employ the correct measures — and quickly — against gas leaks, he said.
The first reports of gas leaks in Kaohsiung’s Cianjhen District (前鎮) came in about 8:46pm on Thursday. A small number of firefighters were sent to the scene of the reported leak and misted the area with water in a bid to control the situation.
A series of explosions then ripped through about a 3km2 area of Cianjhen and Lingya District (苓雅), beginning before midnight and lasting until early the following morning, killing 28 people and injuring 309.