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Firefighting partnership boosts safety

Members of the Superior Fire Department train with the dry chemical agent Purple-K Monday at the Enbridge facility in Superior. The fire-suppressing chemical merged at times with a steady stream of foam from a separate hose, at left. It was the first time the department used the Gorilla tanks and hose, which were purchased by Enbridge as part of the Superior Petroleum Partnership. Maria Lockwood

Purple rain capped off years of behind-the-scenes cooperation between the Superior Fire Department and local petroleum businesses Monday.

Firefighters mingled streams of white foam and Purple-K, a dry chemical agent, during a simulated mixer fire on Enbridge's Tank 8.

"Five years culmination of work in one 10-minute evolution," said Battalion Chief Scott Gordon as he watched the scene play out.

A mixer fire is the most likely fire scenario at Enbridge, Gordon said, but it's also the most difficult because it involves so many variables. A blanket of foam must be laid to prevent the puddle of petroleum from catching fire; Purple-K is needed to combat the three-dimensional blaze inside the mixer motor attached to the outside of the tank.

"We have never had a mixer fire in this city and I hope we never do," Gordon said. "But now we have the knowledge and equipment to fight it."

For the last five years, Superior Petroleum Partners have been laying the groundwork for coordinated response in case of an emergency. The public-private partnership includes the Calumet refinery, Enbridge, Plains Midstream and the Superior Fire Department.

"We go to great lengths to make sure we don't have a fire," said John O'Brien, Calumet safety and security manager.

If there is one, however, they aim to ensure every partner is prepared and on the same page.

"It's a very collaborative, organized, disciplined approach to the community's security," said Kollin Schade, Calumet refinery manager.

They have become good neighbors and assets instead of just businesses working beside each other, said Tom Peterson, supervisor of Enbridge's Superior terminal.

There's a lot to protect in a small area. The Calumet refinery runs about 36,000 barrels of petroleum products through a day, Schade said. Enbridge runs 2.8 million barrels through the Superior terminal daily and has the capacity to store another 13 million barrels, according to Peterson.

The companies also have a business connection. Enbridge supplies crude oil to Calumet and natural gas liquids to Plains Midstream, Peterson said.

Although the businesses were members of the former Twin Ports Mutual Aid Group, they hadn't been communicating regularly on safety issues.

New leadership and the 2011 launch of an Enbridge expansion prompted the formation of Superior Petroleum Partners.

Fire Chief Steve Panger took the department's helm in 2012. He tapped Peterson, who came to the Superior terminal in 2011, and Schade, who was new to the Superior refinery in 2013, to help build the partnership.

Calumet has its own internal emergency response team; Enbridge does not. Meanwhile, the Superior Fire Department was focused on traditional fire response, not industrial fires.

"The tactics, strategies and fire behaviors are completely different," Panger said.

The partners leaned on Calumet's expertise in the field. The refinery spends about $150,000 a year to train its 35 emergency team members and regularly updates equipment.

"We've learned a lot from Calumet and their crews," Panger said.

Superior firefighters attend monthly refinery safety meetings, getting to know the Emergency Response Team members and the facility better.

O'Brien said working with professional firefighters taught Calumet response team members a lot, as well.

"It helps everybody," he said.

In addition, every Superior firefighter has been sent to industrial fire training in Texas, thanks to money from the petroleum businesses.

Over the last few years, Enbridge has provided about $600,000 in training and equipment for the Superior Fire Department to use, including trailers loaded with foam solution, a pressure reducer, high-pressure nozzles and a Gorilla tank system for delivering Purple-K.

"I think it's our social responsibility as a partner in this group to have our own resources and not rely on Calumet's years of developing what they have," Peterson said.

Monday was the inaugural test of the Gorilla tank system Enbridge purchased, similar to one used to put out a 2015 tank fire at Calumet. Both Gordon and Schade credited the public-private petroleum partnership for the well-coordinated response to that fire.

Onsite exercises like this week's Tank 8 scenario have given Superior firefighters a better understanding of facility layouts and safety procedures as well as familiar faces to connect with.

"That's key. We have to train together if we're going to function together," Panger said. "It's really important for us to train together, use the same terminology, kind of get on the same page."

Superior Petroleum Partners also has the ability to pool compatible resources if there's an incident, including a large stockpile of foam fire suppressant.

Does the partnership lead to a safer community?

"Undoubtedly," Schade said. "Especially given the last three to four years, the resources Enbridge has brought to the table, the training group that has worked together, it undoubtedly helps every situation. It's beneficial for the entire area. If there were an incident, everybody's prepared, they know how to handle it."

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