Fuel tank fire exposes urgent needs for the Fire & Emergency Services


The third of 3 fuel storage tanks on fire on Monday this week

BY Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA: TUESDAY 05 APRIL 2016: The Samoa Disaster Advisory Committee (DAC) is exploring ways to upgrade the Fire & Emergency Services in order to be a fully equipped service and respond effectively to any major disaster.

This follows last Monday’s fuel tank explosion at the Matautu wharf that found the service falling short of having the right equipment to effectively fight the first of such disasters in Samoa.

The DAC, Fire and Emergency Services and management of fuel importing suppliers PPS called a joint press conference today to discuss Mondays fire that started with and explosion around 10.00am and was only put out after 3.00pm.

One of the issues raised during the press conference was the shortage of foam powder needed to “blanket out the oxygen from the burning diesel.”

As witnessed by many yesterday, the water from the fire trucks hoses could not reach the height of the tank and the fire fighters had to turn the hoses on the tank to cool it down.

“We need special trucks with ladders that could reach as high as tall buildings, and a request is already with the Government,” said DAC Chief Executive Officer Suluimalo Amataga Penaia.

He said Government has accepted the proposal especially with many high multi storey buildings in town.

Only the fire trucks from the Faleolo International Airport fire service were equipped with more powerful pumps for the water to reach such heights.

“Faleolo fire trucks are bigger and have stronger pumps,” said Suluimalo.

Head of the Fire & Emergency Service, Lelevaga Fouina Mupo said yesterdays’ incident was different from normal house fires that the current FESA fire trucks can cater, but with a request is now before Government for better trucks and equipment.

From Left - Peseta Tone, Samau Etuale Sefo, Suluimalo Amataga Penaia and Lelevaga Fouina Mupo talking to the media

From Left – Peseta Tone, Samau Etuale Sefo, Suluimalo Amataga Penaia and Lelevaga Fouina Mupo talking to the media

Fuel tanks well designed to contain fuel during an incident
There was never a risk of fuel spilling out from the storage tanks or the tank exploding during the fire. This was the response by Peseta Konelio Tone of Consultant for the Design and Supervision team responsible for designing the three PPS 3 storage fuel tanks at the Matautu wharf.

“It was designed that if something did happen such as a fire or an explosion, the top side of the tank will   explode off and the tank wall will remain intact,” said Peseta.

“The fuel inside the tank will continue to burn and will eventually die out,” he explained.

He also emphasized the importance of Lelevaga’s word of spraying foam on the fuel to stop the oxygen from reaching the fuel and stopping the fire.

He also confirmed that only 1/3 of diesel was inside the tank when it exploded, and if fuel did spill out, “there is a separate tank” that reacts to the problem.

Despite the evacuation order for areas that posed a risk of an explosion, DAC believes it was only for precautionary measures, but not from risks of any fuel spills.

PPS workers were doing welding work when the tank exploded
PPS General Manager Samau Etuale Sefo confirmed that 2 of the company’s workers were doing welding maintenance work on the tank’s hand rail at the time of the incident, but did not know the cause of the incident until investigations are completed.

This is not the first time that such work has been done on the tanks, and requires a permit before they are carried out.

“Safety of the workers is a priority and it is sad that a life was lost,” said Samau.

The deceased is a 31 year man who has served at PPS for many years, said Samau.

Specialists from Australia arrived today to investigate the cause of the incident.

Environmental impact
The burnt fuel and heavy black smoke certainly caused an environment hazard according to Suluimalo, who is also the CEO for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

As witnessed by many, thick smoke from the fire could be seen from as far as Aleisa and Vailima, and because it was a windy day, burnt fuel could have had an impact on the environment and atmosphere.

Asked if they would charge PPS should investigation found them to be the cause of the problem, Suluimalo, said penalties are set out under the law.