Firefighters recount tackling Jurong Island oil tank fire
SCDF firefighters recount tackling Jurong Island oil tank fire
In her six years as a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer, she had never encountered a blaze quite like this one.
The sight of the huge oil tank fire set Captain Clara Toh, 30, the station commander of Banyan Fire Station on Jurong Island, thinking of the need to contain it first, rather than put it out.
"The tank was engulfed in flames and there was a huge fireball above it.
"Then I saw the top of the tank start to cave in. That was when I knew the first thing to do was to contain the fire," she told The New Paper.
By then, the in-house company emergency response team (Cert) was already using ground water monitors to fight the fire that broke out on Wednesday in the Jurong Aromatics Corporation (JAC) petrochemical complex on Jurong Island.
Capt Toh led a team of 16 officers to the fire at 3pm, and there were 150 officers on site within an hour.
SCDF also deployed 38 fire-fighting and rescue vehicles from seven fire stations in the 1st Division HQ.
A section commander from Banyan Fire Station, Sergeant Rahmat Mohamat Haron, 23, told TNP that the station was just a five-minute drive away.
"As soon as the fire engine I was in got out of the station, I could already see the massive blaze coming from the tank.
"There were no explosions, just thick, black smoke," said the full-time national serviceman.
Another section commander from the same station, Staff Sergeant Fazeli Rahmat, 33, added: "When we reached the scene, it was so hot. It felt like we were being cooked."
Capt Toh said the temperature near the tank was about 700 deg C.
The tank could contain up to 2.5 million litres of light crude oil.
An SCDF spokesman said it was about 10 per cent full.
For safety reasons, the tank was surrounded by a 2m-high rectangular bund wall, 100m by 150m.
SCDF brought out its big guns to take on the fire.
A monitor that can shoot out 27,000 litres of foam per minute was set up to fight the fire. It is so powerful that it can fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in about one and a half hours.
Several ground water monitors and fixed drencher systems were used to cool down two oil tanks nearby, as well as a pipeline corridor away from the burning tank. (See graphic.)
Lieutenant-Colonel Alan Chow, 39, commander of the SCDF's 1st Division HQ, explained that it was important to contain the fire within the tank and prevent it from spreading to its immediate surrounding.
"The three elements that keep a fire burning are fuel, heat and oxygen.
"So we used the foam to blanket the fire so as to suffocate it and cut off the oxygen supply," said Lt-Col Chow.
He added: "When it comes to oil tank fires, it's better to use foam than water. It's like boiling oil - when you add water, it will actually cause the oil to boil over."
Station commander of Jurong Island Fire Station, Major Benny Ong, 35, who was in charge of overseeing the operation of the large monitor, said: "Because the large monitor uses very high water pressure, we have to co-ordinate with the rest on the ground.
"Sometimes, we have to make the call to close some ground monitors so that the water pressure in the large monitor is not compromised."
Sgt Rahmat and Staff Sgt Fazeli operated the monitor, along with Lance Corporal Sundar Raj Hemath Kumar, 20, a firefighter who joined Banyan Fire Station in January after passing his fire-fighting course.
Lance Cpl Sundar Raj said: "It was the first time I was sent out to such a major incident after I completed my training. I was a little nervous but confident because our training is all based on real-life situations. I was glad it all paid off."
According to Platts, which issues daily price assessments for the energy and metals commodity markets, JAC filed for receivership in September last year after debt-restructuring talks broke down.
The company has been offline since 2014.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, said SCDF.
Lt-Col Chow also thanked the Singapore Police Force, the Jurong Town Corporation and Aetos for helping in the operation.
As soon as the fire engine I was in got out of the station, I could already see the massive blaze coming from the tank
- Sergeant Rahmat Mohamat Haron, section commander from Banyan Fire Station
Other industrial fires
SEPT 28, 2011
A fire at Shell's refinery facility on Pulau Bukom raged for 32 hours before it was extinguished.
The fire was caused by maintenance works on a pipeline connected to a tank of naphtha, a volatile chemical liquid.
More than 100 firefighters were involved. No deaths were reported.
MAY 3, 2007
Two industrial fires broke out that day.
The first at the ExxonMobil Singapore oil refinery on Jurong Island claimed two lives and injured two others.
The second fire at a Jurong oil and chemical plant resulted in the death of one man after he suffered 70 per cent burns.
- Additional reporting by Nurul Asyikin Yusoff