Australia has a considerable amount of petroleum and gas terminals across the country. These terminals support our daily life and pumps energy into our economy. But what if one of these terminals and its tanks go wrong? In a blink of eye they can turn into monsters.
The Esso Longford gas explosion was a catastrophic industrial accident which occurred at the Esso natural gas plant at Longford in the Australian state of Victoria’s Gippsland region. On 25 September 1998, an explosion took place at the plant, killing two workers and injuring eight.
On 28th January 2004, a blaze started in a 32 meter diameter tank containing about 4,000 cubic meters of ethanol at Port Kembla, on the New South Wales south coast.
The explosion blasted the lid off the storage tank containing nearly five million litres of highly flammable ethanol. The fire then burnt out of control for most of the day, threatening storage tanks nearby.
During this year’s Fire Australia conference I heard a story from a former NSW fire-crew member. He told me that back in the Nineties, his fire brigade responded to a major petroleum tank explosion in Sydney. On arrival firefighters were confronted by a large flammable liquids storage tank from which flames were leaping 50 metres in the air. Radiant heat had melted and buckled plastic fixtures on cars parked over 50 metres away. His crew had to line up to hold a fire hose and face the flame in a very close range. “I wouldn’t have to put myself into danger if I had your remote controlled fire-fighting robot at that time” stated from the fireman.
Australian refineries were built many decades ago and are now outdated, by international standards. During the last three years there were a number of key developments in the use, expansion and ownership of terminal infrastructure. The increasing size and volume of storage tanks is creating new risks and challenges for fire protection and response. It rises the concern in managing hazardous fires and other emergencies where fire fighters cannot safely approach the flames, especially when there is a danger of explosion.
We need something that is tough, effective and expandable, and that can save lives by going to places where humans can’t.
In a Northern China city, a compact tank sized fire-fighting robot walked towards the burning fuel tanks. Its infrared eyes scanned the blaze to find its heart, and its water canon aimed to the heat core to spray water into the inferno.
The robot has three ways of seeing the full environment: High definition camera located on the top that allows the operator to see the big picture, a thermal imaging camera that enables it to detect the heat and see through smoke, and a radar that allows to map out the distance between itself and an object to avoid collision.
The robot is called Explosion Proof Extinguishing and Scouting Robot, which weighs 480 kilograms, 1300mm long 820mm wide and 750mm high. It has been designed not to replace the firefighters; but to assist the firefighters to enhance their operating capabilities. It will be useful in many types of incidents where the environment would be very dangerous for humans, such as hazardous materials, radioactivity, or a propane tank that could explode.
The robot can shoot water the length of a football field (85m at 1.2Mpa); it can be remotely controlled up to 3 Km in line of site, 500m when there is an obstruction. It has strong crossing and climbing ability and the machine can counter different terrains. It can climb the stairs up to 40 degrees, has a maximum crossing height of 220mm. The robot has certain load capacity, which can pull and load the rescue car into the disaster scene, and rescue stranded persons in time. It can load two persons at level road and one person at a ramp.
The machine has been designed for high temperature resistance, and when it comes closer to the heat it will use double water curtain system to cool it down prevent itself from overheating. It is fitted with flame retardant rubber for the external track and even if the external rubber melts down under high temperature, the robot still has the internal metal frame that ensures its stability and walking ability. So as we can see it is perfectly in battling petrol chemical fire.
The robot is able to collect sound and image though three cameras that transmit images back to the operator in time. The fire fighter who controls this robot therefore will have a clear picture of what’s going on at the frontline.
The firefighting robot is small enough to be able to go through an average sized door and is very effective in dealing with the factory fire and serious domestic and commercial fire environment where firemen may face falling debris or roof.
Wei’s Technology is intended to bring this piece of technology to all major cities in Australia and New Zealand, to tackle fires without risking human lives.
Keeping fire-crew from the danger of direct exposure to fire is our long-term goal. If the robot successfully come out from a dangerous site, well, that is an excellent achievement. And if it doesn’t I will award it with a medal to honour its contribution to the community.
The safety of fire fighters is our highest priority. For every fireman we had ever lost, please remember it’s not just about one person, it is the suffering of the entire family.
For more information, go to weistech.com.au
- Complex Emergencies – Longford Gas Plant accident and Victorian gas supply crisis, Attorney-General’s Department Disasters Database
- Coroner blames Esso for Longford disaster, 15 November 2002, By Liz Gooch, The Age
- Monitoring of the Australian petroleum industry December 2013