In a very sophisticated technological environment, safety plays a key role. This applies particularly to chemical companies. For many years, BYK in Wesel has cooperated intensely with the local fire department. The collaboration is extraordinary. We not only know this from first-hand experience, but it is also confirmed by Christoph Hegering, the assistant chief of the Wesel fire and rescue department.
Chemical reactions require high temperatures, and some raw materials are combustible or caustic. To guarantee the protection of employees, neighbors, and the environment, the corresponding laws and regulations prescribe detailed safety measures. Among other things, some companies are required to develop their own fire departments. This would have been the case with BYK in Wesel too.
But due to the proximity of our plant to the main fire department in Wesel, we were given permission by the regional administration to forego having our own company fire service. Instead, we support the municipal fire department, among other things, in its regular special training of personnel to fight industrial fires. In addition, we are helping them purchase special fire-fighting equipment used to fight industrial fires and other large fires. Finally, we provide special equipment on our factory grounds and maintain it on a regular basis.
The cooperation is multifaceted. The top priority is to train the 70 fulltime and 200 volunteer fire department employees on active duty in Wesel. “Everyone here has to be able to fight an industrial fire,” says Hegering. Two-day training stints on the grounds of the Rotterdam International Safety Center (RISC) prepare them for this task. Twice a year, accident scenarios are gone through here, situations that would be conceivable at BYK. They include pumps and filling facilities that catch on fire.
In this training program financed by BYK, the firefighters learn under which conditions they can use water, foam, or powder to extinguish a fire and which additional rescue and security measures are needed.
In parallel, BYK has its own employees trained to be so-called fire department helpers. Two helpers have to be available on each shift. In the event of an emergency, they support the fire department as “scouts” with their knowledge of the site or carry out preparatory work, for example switching on fire wells on the factory grounds. They are also trained with the fire department, learning how to use respiratory protective equipment, among other things. The knowledge gained from the reciprocal training is deepened by regular joint exercises and on-site visits to the BYK plant grounds.
“Good cooperation presupposes predictability and reliability. Our longstanding cooperation with the Wesel fire department has helped strengthen our understanding for one another enormously. We have built well-functioning structures together that enable us to act quickly and competently in an emergency.”
Klaus Hirle, BYK
But this is not enough for successful cooperation. “Open and honest interaction with one another is paramount,” says Hegering. “Good cooperation is based on the partners being predictable,” adds Klaus Hirle, the head of Work and Health Protection at BYK-Chemie. “This shows trust.”
Joint debriefings by the managers, analyses, and above all the willingness of both sides to talk openly about mistakes and to learn from them are additional aspects of the partnership. Both Hegering and Hirle are convinced that “in the case of an emergency, we could react much faster and better than a few years ago.” Thanks to the preventative safety measures taken, though, they have not had to put their firefighting skills to the test.
“ALTANA is a partner with which we can talk openly and honestly. So we know that communication will work in an emergency.”
Christoph Hegering, Wesel Fire Department