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Inspectioneering Journal

FFS Forum: Tips and Guidance on FFS in the Aftermath of a Process Plant Fire (Part 1 of 2)

By Greg Garic, Managing Principal at Stress Engineering Services, Inc. This article appears in the July/August 2021 issue of Inspectioneering Journal.
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This article is part one of a 2-part series on Fire Damage Assessments.
Part 1| Part 2 (Coming Soon)

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part column on Fire Damage Assessments. It presents a brief overview of the process of assessing equipment in a post-fire “return- to- service” effort, and discusses some common issues that may arise during that process. Part two of this series will focus on the important topic of establishing “Heat Exposure Zones” and how to conduct Level 1, 2, and 3 assessments after a fire.

Introduction

A major plant fire can leave massive destruction in its wake. Where to begin? Prioritizing is always a good place to start, but even prioritization becomes difficult when there are 50 things that need to be done immediately.

Of course, the very first step is to make sure all personnel are safe, the fire is out, and dangers related to leaks (and new fires and explosions) have been remediated. At that point, you can begin to figure out what happened and how to deal with that twisted mess that used to be your unit, or plant.

Typically, there is an origin and cause team and a fire damage assessment team. The origin and cause team is the first to access the site and is tasked to locate the origin and determine the cause (e.g., the fire started at the compressor because a blade broke and breached the casing). The work of the origin and cause team is a critical part of the root cause analysis that will follow. On the other hand, the fire damage assessment team is tasked with determining the condition of the equipment (i.e., what equipment can return to service and what needs to be repaired or replaced). API 579 Part 11 and this article deal with the fire damage assessment activities.

The goal of this article is to present an overview of the process of assessing equipment in a post-fire “return-to-service” effort, and to discuss some of the issues that typically arise in the process.

Fire Damage Assessments

The aftermath of a large process plant fire can be described in one word: chaos. There are a thousand things that need to be done immediately. In larger organizations, there may be a response team that has significant experience with such situations, but generally, that’s not the case. In many cases, plant personnel are largely on their own to work their way through the situation. Command and control functions are stretched to the limit. Safety systems (e.g., permitting and access control), which are in large part based on standard practices and routines, are thrown into turmoil.

The main problem for the fire damage assessment team is to bring some order to this chaos. That is, to develop an orderly, systematic approach to quickly prioritizing, and then addressing the evaluation of equipment.

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