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Waste management sites

Fires in waste sites can be significant incidents for responding fire and rescue services (FRS), environment agencies and other agencies. They can be:

  • Very large
  • Difficult to extinguish
  • High profile
  • Resource intensive
  • Protracted

The effects of such fires can include immediate or long term harm to firefighters, the public and the environment.

The economic impact of resolving these incidents can be large, these impacts are not limited to operators, FRSs, EAs, local authorities and other responders. They may also affect local communities, businesses and the taxpayer due to the disruption and pollution caused. For more information see, Fires in waste sites.

Waste legislation and fire prevention plans

Fire officers should be aware that if some or all of the materials stored on a site are classified as waste, then waste legislation enforced by environment agencies will apply as well as any requirements under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order. The legislation includes requirements for the operator of any permitted site storing combustible waste to produce a Fire Prevention Plan (FPP) which sets out how they will prevent and mitigate the impact of a fire on people and the environment. FRS should also be aware that the deliberate burning of waste on such sites is illegal unless the operator has a specific exemption issued by environment agencies. They should therefore report such incidents to environment agencies.

Environment agencies view fire prevention as pollution prevention and require operators to take appropriate fire safety measures, as part of the fire prevention plan. If these measures are not in place, they can refuse to issue a permit, revoke an existing permit and take other enforcement action against the operator.

The regulatory requirements for operators of sites storing combustible waste sites in England are set out in the Environment Agency’s Guidance Fire Prevention Plans: environmental permits. Its principal aim is to:

  • Minimise the likelihood of a fire
  • Increase the likelihood that the fire is extinguished within 4 hours
  • Minimise the spread of fire within the site and to neighbouring sites

Similar guidance is offered by the Fire prevention and mitigation plan guidance (Wales).

The 4 hour rule reflects the recommended 3-4 hour time period for which sheltering in a building is effective in reducing people’s short term exposure to high levels of air pollution. After this period sheltering can become less effective. The timeframe is aspirational and only to be used as a guide. For more prolonged fires the shelter advice must be reviewed according to the level of risk to ensure that advice remains appropriate and reasonable.

If an operator submits a plan which includes all the measures set out in the FPP Guidance the environment agency is likely to approve the FPP.

Operators can however submit a plan to the Environment Agency with other fire prevention and risk reduction measures. This can include:

  • Alternative fire prevention measures, if an operator can demonstrate that they can still meet the three objectives

or

  • Demonstrating that the fire does not need to be extinguished within 4 hours because it is not close to sensitive receptors. The operator must still however meet the other two fire prevention objectives in the FPP guidance.

Joint working to reduce the risk

Given the shared interest of FRSs, EAs, other agencies and legitimate operators to prevent and mitigate the impact of waste fires, joint working is actively encouraged.

Working together should help to:

  • Identify solutions considering the characteristics of the site
  • Enable the operator to run a successful business
  • Reduce risk to an acceptable level

Joint working should consider both fire safety and prevention and fire response plans:

  • Fire safety measures include, good site security, site procedures and waste management arrangements, for example measures to reduce the risk of self-combustion
  • Fire response plans, including fire suppression and containment systems and tactics to mitigate the impacts of firewater and smoke

Joint working can include information sharing, input to permit applications and joint site visits.

Joint working should also take place at high risk sites where the operator is uncooperative, or the site is illegal or abandoned. Information and intelligence about high risk sites in the local area should be shared between stakeholders. If an operator is uncooperative and will not follow good practice or the site is illegal, enforcement action may be considered. In such case the FRS, environment agencies and if appropriate other regulators such as the HSE or local authority should decide between them which agency is best placed to take action as well as the level of support needed from the other parties. For more information see waste crime.

More details on how the joint working between Environment Agency and FRS Officers should be undertaken in England is covered in Annex 2 Preventing Waste and Industry site fire of the EA/NFCC MoU.

Fire at a bulk white good storage site Photo courtesy of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service

The environmental impact of fires at bulk storage sites, such as stacks of used fridges, tyres or wood can be limited by applying restrictions on stack sizes and separation distances. The installation of appropriate fire suppression and pollution prevention systems as well the implementation of regularly tested emergency response plan agreed with the FRS and environment agencies can also help reduce the impact.

Gascgoine wood fire
Storage of waste is regulated by environment agencies, working with fire officers if a fire occurs

Risk Reduction Measures

In addition to the FRS and environment agency guidance to reduce and tackle waste fires, there is also the Waste Industry’s own guidance ‘Reducing Fire Risk at Waste Management Sites’, published by the Waste Industry and Industry Forum (WISH) and also promoted by the Waste Industry and Industry Forum  Northern Ireland (WISHNI). The NFCC and Environment Agency are both members of the forum. The WISH guidance is a detailed document reflecting the wide range of hazards and risks on waste sites and the measures available to reduce them.

FRS officers involved with risk reduction work at waste sites should familiarise themselves with all associated guidance and the regulatory requirements for these sites. An aide memoir, that can be used as a check list, for officers assessing the specific risks to the environment from a fire storing combustible waste and identifying measures to reduce them is provided below.

Checklist for assessing the risk to the environment from sites storing combustible waste

1 Description of site

  • Layout and fabric of buildings: Do they contain combustible or hazardous material in their structure? For example, insulation materials, plastics or asbestos roofing
  • Any areas where hazardous materials are stored on site, location of gas cylinders, process areas, chemicals, oil and fuel tanks
  • Storage areas for combustible waste with stack dimensions, and fire walls, where applicable, including wastes stored in a building, bunker, or containers
  • Are any processed or recovered combustible materials no longer classified as waste stored and awaiting removal on site? If so, how much and where is it stored
  • Are sources of ignition separated sufficiently from combustible and flammable materials?
  • Is there a regular inspection, maintenance and cleaning programme? For example, to remove dust and fibre from machinery used to process waste
  • Are stacks at or below maximum recommended sizes?
  • Are the distances between stacks, buildings and other structures, sufficient to limit fire spread from radiated heat? Or are other measures such as fire walls employed
  • How is waste managed to prevent self-heating?
  • Does the site have suitable fire detection and fire suppression systems?
  • Is there suitable and sufficient first aid firefighting equipment and trained staff?
  • Are the means of escape in case of fire between stacks and from the site adequate?
  • Is there access around the stack perimeter for firefighting appliances and operations?
  • Is there an adequate water supply available for firefighting? Or will other firefighting tactics be employed such as separation using heavy machinery. If so, is there sufficient machinery or equipment and space available on site to allow such tactics to be used?
  • Is there a site plan available for use by the FRS for operational planning?

2 Open water and hydrants for firefighting

  • Is a high volume pump (HVP) or hose layer appliance required if a fire occurs at the facility?
  • Are suitable open water supplies identified and available?
  • Have hydrant locations been identified?
  • What are the expected flow rates from the hydrant supply?

3 Access. Is access restricted by:

  • Prevailing winds causing smoke and fumes around access areas?
  • Terrain?
  • Buildings?
  • Security fencing?

4 Environmental considerations

Water

  • Does the site have a drainage system? If a drainage system exists, is a suitable drainage plan available?
  • Is the waste stored on unmade ground?
  • Where’s the likely destination of a spillage and firewater? If it is to a local surface or groundwater, what is the predicted impact? What mitigation measures can be taken to reduce it?
  • Where’s the nearest sewage treatment works, and does it have the capacity to contain or treat firewater run-off?
  • Are there suitable firewater containment facilities on or off site? For example, drain closure devises or firewater lagoons. Be aware that oil separators will not contain many of the pollutants contained in firewater.
  • Does the site have its own pollution control equipment or will the EPU need to be deployed?
  • If firefighting foam or wetting agents are to be used, can run-off be contained?
  • If firewater cannot be contained and environmental damage is likely can a controlled burn be used for part or the whole duration of a fire. If it will increase the risk to people can other tactics be used to reduce the amount of firewater run-off?
  • Is there a plan to dispose of waste arising and to manage any risks from them before they can be lawfully disposed of?

Air & Smoke

  • Are there surrounding properties and residential areas that might be affected by smoke?
  • Has plume modelling information been considered in advance to identify vulnerable populations, for example, hospitals, schools, and residential homes with 1 km of the site?
  • What is the predicted duration of the fire, in particular can the fire be extinguished within 4 hours or will it take longer?
  • Is there planned advice to tenants and occupiers concerning keeping doors and windows closed, or any others needed? If the fire is likely to burn for longer than 4 hours and air pollutant levels are predicted to remain high such that sheltering become ineffective, what is the plan?
  • Is a well ventilated controlled burn an option for reducing air quality impacts and fire fighter safety and if so in what circumstances and for how long can it be used

5 On-site personnel

  • Is there a plan to ensure evacuation of site workers?
  • Has firefighter safety been considered within the stack design if a fire occurs?
  • Has potential fire development on and around the site been assessed and the operational plan formulated?

 

6 Rendezvous point(s)

Location of FRS primary and secondary rendezvous points and incident command location bearing in mind the slope of the ground and prevailing wind.

When considering rendezvous points:

  • Are they located appropriately?
  • Do they provide sufficient space for PDA?
  • Do they have marker plates provided?
  • Are there alternative locations?