A massive explosion that occurred just before 8 p.m. on April 17, 2013 violently jolted the sleepy town of West, Texas (population 2,800). Fire had come in contact with large bins of fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate stored at the West Fertilizer Company's storage and distribution center, creating a detonation that rocked the entire town. A nursing home, an apartment building, schools, and homes were damaged. About 200 people were injured. An even grimmer fact was that three civilians and 12 emergency responders died from the incident, making the explosion the third-highest line-of-duty death toll for firefighters in the state's history.
On a mission to spread crucial information on chemical storage safety since the explosion is Texas State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy. He and U.S. agencies have been using NFPA as a valuable resource as they try to bolster safety at these settings. The cover story in the latest issue of NFPA Journal highlights these efforts, including action by the NFPA 400, Hazardous Materials Code, Committee to incorporate lessons learned into the code's 2016 edition. Furthermore, an executive order by President Barack Obama has directed the federal government to improve safety and security at chemical facilities, and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and the Environmental Protection Agency have also followed suit.
"We're trying to do everything we can to reinforce and create new best practices to avoid another situation like what happened in West," says Connealy. "There are some challenges out there ... but as a society you have to have some regulatory requirements to make sure people follow at least some semblance of best practices to minimize the risk."
Read the full story in the March/April issue of NFPA Journal.