A Podcast with Dirk Westphal, Chief Fire Officer of the Burg /Fehmarn volunteer fire brigade
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Last year, an unusually dangerous situation had the people on Fehmarn (an island in the Baltic Sea) on tenterhooks: the rapeseed stored in a historical silo at the island’s Burgstaaken port had self-ignited. Built in 1938, the brick silo had to be filled with nitrogen to get the smouldering fire under control. The inert gas suppressed the fire and prevented there being an explosion. What it also meant, however, was that it was no longer possible to simply empty the silo. Strict safety measures had to be put in place before the rapeseed could be removed and the silo cleaned.
A case for BUCHEN-ICS. This emergency call-out saw it sending a team of specially trained operatives to Fehmarn, who spent two weeks there cleaning the silo. Besides having the necessary expertise to work in a nitrogen atmosphere, they also took their mobile equipment with them – equipment that has been specially adapted for just such assignments.
Offering highly specialised mobile silo cleaning services, BUCHEN-ICS is also the company to turn to if a silo’s contents can still be used and need to be protected.
It’s the summer holidays. Peak season for Fehmarn and its idyllic Burgstaaken Harbour. Tourists are enjoying the maritime flair: going on boat trips, watching the fishing boats coming in, sitting in the cafés and restaurants. Burgstaaken, though, is not just a magnet for tourists. It is also the place where the island’s cereal crops are stored. Last June, one of the port’s employees noticed pockets of embers falling from the silo while offloading some of the rapeseed. A problem for the fire brigade: if they simply removed the contents, then oxygen would enter the silo and stoke the embers. And they couldn’t use water as the rapeseed would absorb it and expand, which in turn would push the walls of the building outwards. The situation was further aggravated by the fact that the smouldering fire inside the silo had released some explosive gases. Having looked at the various alternatives, the fire brigade decided to flood the silo with nitrogen as this would suppress the embers and neutralise the explosive gases.
Less than a week later, the danger had passed. Focus was now on clearing the site up. The first task was to remove the rapeseed from the silo – something that had to be done in line with strict safety standards and without people entering the silo because of the nitrogen. The operator of the silo turned to BUCHEN-ICS, one of the leading experts for working in a nitrogen atmosphere and a specialist for cleaning silos. Within record time, the BUCHEN-ICS team had planned exactly how they should proceed, gathered together the equipment they needed and travelled to Fehmarn.
Once on site, they set up their mobile cleaning systems, which in itself was not an easy task considering the lack of space available. Using the BinDrill® system, these experienced operatives then drilled into the rapeseed that had become clogged up so that the contents flowed easily. Once unclogged, a vacuum/suction unit was deployed to vacuum up the rapeseed and transfer it to a number of containers. One particular challenge faced by the team was the unusual architecture of this historical building as it was 30 metres high and divided up into 16 separate chambers. Ten of these chambers contained rapeseed – around 80 tonnes in all.
BUCHEN-ICS first cleaned chamber 13, the heart of the smouldering fire, and then two further chambers and the silo’s underground rooms. When cleaning silos in a nitrogen atmosphere, BUCHEN-ICS normally uses a non-man-entry system so that the team does not need to climb into the storage space. The special features of this particular silo, however, meant that this was not an option. Wearing special anti-panic helmets (with two completely separate oxygen supplies and an integrated communications system), the BUCHEN-ICS specialists entered the silo’s chambers to clean them. They were also directly connected to the life support system (LSS) located outside the silo throughout their assignment. Equipped with video surveillance, communications systems and technology to continuously measure the atmosphere in the silo, the LSS provided them with the highest possible levels of safety. The emergency call-out was successfully completed within a fortnight. And Burgstaaken Harbour was once again as it should be – for the residents, for the tourists and for the businesses supplying cereal to the mainland.