Renton fire chief expresses safety concerns over proposed asphalt plant | Letters

Renton Regional Fire Authority has serious concerns regarding the proposed asphalt plant due to the high hazard risk it presents, fire chief says.

The Renton Regional Fire Authority (RRFA) is an all-hazards capable fire service agency for the City of Renton, Fire District 25 and Fire District 40. Despite this, the RRFA has serious concerns regarding the proposed asphalt plant, located at 18825 Renton-Maple Valley Road in Renton, due to the high hazard risk it presents.

This type of plant has several highly toxic, combustible and flammable chemicals for the manufacture of asphalt that are incompatible with life and the environment. Also, asphalt plants can include emergency incidents that result in explosions from asphalt fumes, fire and toxic exposures.

The RRFA also has concerns over the runoff that would occur from either fighting a fire or a chemical spill that may occur, and the close proximity of the Cedar River. A catastrophic failure due to explosion or a seismic event could create the right conditions for entry into the river and grow the hazard area exponentially due to the movement of the water.

Despite requiring vigorous safety and fire prevention systems, these plants are vulnerable to catastrophic failures if any part of the system fails. The atmospheric release of toxins from a spill or fire can have long-reaching impacts on the surrounding population, and the crews who respond to mitigate the emergency. Any type of emergency at this facility will involve several resources from multiple agencies, that may have an impact on other jurisdictions and their response capabilities to other emergencies, due to the large number of resources required, and the time needed to effectively handle an emergency of this magnitude.

In addition, in talking with other jurisdictions that have asphalt plants in their area of response, some noted issues with the delivery vehicles and the problem of leaking chemicals as they traversed area roads, and the lack of ability to address these issues. With the Renton-Maple Valley Road consisting of only two lanes, the RRFA is concerned regarding the potential for these chemicals to combust on the roadway. Not only would this close a major thoroughfare, but access to mitigate these emergencies would be hampered at the least by difficult access and slow response times.

Due to the high hazard nature asphalt plants can present, our organization would be concerned with, and attempt to address, the following through our fire code review process during the planning, construction and operation of this plant.

Design and construction that mitigates hazards and includes the following elements:

  • Fire detection and suppression systems
  • Automatic shutdown of systems, power and gas during emergencies
  • Fire resistive construction materials
  • Adequate water supply and fire department access
  • Control of ignition sources, static electricity and electrical equipment installation
  • Adequate setbacks from other surrounding properties

Operational concerns and requirements to mitigate and reduce hazards include the following elements:

  • Regular inspections of the facility, storage, handling, and use of on-sight ignitable and chemical materials
  • Cleanup and maintenance procedures
  • Where hot works occur
  • Emergency planning and response procedures with facility staff
  • Inspections, maintenance and upkeep of fire protection systems and operational equipment of the facility

While there are a number of codes that have been adopted nationally that attempt to mitigate and reduce hazards, this high-risk occupancy presents some unique challenges that will require ongoing review through the life of operations to ensure community and firefighter safety.

Very Respectfully,

Steve Heitman

Fire Chief, RRRFA