Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Fun with a vacuum



  1. With so much practice, you'd think they could fold it a little neater...

  2. This stuff happens on the water too.

    Fun fact #1, hazardous chemical barges cannot stand over 5lbs per square inch internal pressure.

    Fun fact #2, most dock men (not all) can't convert\tell the difference on a manometer between 5 water column inches and 5 lbs. per square inch psi.

    Because of this when the pressure reaches 5 inches in water column many dock men (not all) back off the pressure to avoid collapsing the barge no matter how many times you try to explain the conversion to them.

    Fun fact #3, A tiny bead of benzene, like sweat on a Pepsi can, dropping 13 feet to the cargo floor can cause a massive explosion from the resulting static electrical discharge generated by the product in free fall.

    Because of this most dock man (not all) are diligent enough to maintain proper pressure in order to keep the flare at the dock burning off vented product from causing such a freefall event back into the cargo hold.

    Fun Fact #4, I was standing 35 feet away from ground zero Arco Lyondell when it exploded from just such an event some twenty years ago. The Tankerman, a young kid who would never get a chance to get older and whose name I'll leave out of this, was promoted to this position after being part of an oil spill cover-up in the Tennessee River a few years earlier.

    He had no business being here. Tankerman is not a position for the timid. You need to be very smart, yes, and he was. But you also have to be a swaggering asshole ready to piss in the face of any and all who think they know better than you. And they come by the truckload. Dock men, supervisors, pipefitters, engineers, boat captains, port captains, office clowns, and other tankerman. Everybody knows what's best, but only sign the declaration of inspection. You are the man the federal regulations says is in charge. The coast guard defines a spill as a thimble full of product on the deck for which you and you alone are liable for up to a hundred thousand dollar fine and\or ten years in a federal supermax, so if piss off is not in your vocabulary you are an incident report waiting to be filled out.

    I wandered over to his barge from mine because I could see something was up. I knew the kid, was supposed to train him back before the incident that got him promoted. I walked off back then, warning them as I did. He stayed and his silence put him right in the center of this day.

    He told me the dock man did not understand his manometer (no surprise), and because the dock man was afraid of collapsing the barge like a Pepsi can he refused (which is against the law, I might add) to put more vacuum on the barge resulting in the flair popping out every 5 minutes.

    I told him, he was the tankerman. The alarmed reach rod to shut down the entire operation (and by extension the plant) was on his barge, he was in charge. Shut it down, four hours minimum, let the plant dissipate any static electric build up. Screw the hard hats, screw the ties in charge of them, nothing they can say. You got the

    1. continued
      coast guard backing you up.

      I turned, walked away and nearly made it back to my barge when the whole plant went up! Out of my left eye I saw the flame shoot from the stack, ignite a vapor trail to the plant, race twenty one miles back through the air and blow the stack right off the dock! It also blew me off the barge I was standing on, and I came down hard on the deck of my tug, sixteen feet below.

      I woke a moment later to the sound of the bow winches being run off as the Captain made absolutely no haste in ‘un-assing’ our own barge. The barge where the kid had been was gone. Nothing but crumpled steel and shooting flames as far as I could see.
      The dock was on fire, the remaining barges were on fire, and our own back deck was on fire. Arco Lyondell was unique in that a tow passed under a raised curtain of pipes to enter the dock area, a curtain that was also now ablaze.

      Arco Lyondell is also up above the I-10 Bridge and sometimes when there is a flood you cannot get very far. Such was the case this time. As we passed under the flaming raised curtain of pipes that spanned the barge entrance to the plant, I could see Buffalo Bayou (the upper part of the Houston Ship Channel) was not only in raging flood but on fire with vast pools of benzene as well. The water was on fire!

      I wasted no time charging the portside fire hose and gathering a team to put out the fire engulfing our garbage and the huge stack of lines burning on our back deck. However when I looked up to the wheelhouse for direction, (in a fire the Captain directs from the wheel house while the pilot steers) ‘Captain Courageous’ suddenly turned into Mark Spitz! He dove right off the third deck, straight down under a burning pool of benzene and didn’t surface till he hit the opposite bank.

      The whole thing would have been spectacular if not for the fact that it was as big an act of dereliction as it was a stupendous act of cowardice! So now we are on fire, the bayou is on fire, we are outrunning our steering (the floodwaters were rushing faster than our rudders could answer), we are careening out of control down onto the I-10 Bridge, and we are not under command, perfect.

      For those who never worked a tug, water can shove you right under. If we so much as bounced as we hit the bridge it would push us under faster than you could say Tom Sawyer. How that pilot kept from broaching as he came down on the bridge I’ll never know. I do know that the water was washing over the roadway when we got there and I also knew it was my job to leap onto the bridge and find a way to run our face wires around the guard rails so we could ‘make up’ to the bridge like a barge, without getting washed into the current myself. We did it though, and we hung onto that bridge for dear life until the waters subsided.

      What has this got to do with your post you might ask? Well not much I’ll admit. Just another of those clunky old memories the internet seems to knock from this rusty old pirates brain from time to time.

      Oh look, bourbon.

  3. WOW! What a danger-filled story! Lots to be aware of in those situations! Some are aware; some are not!

  4. WOW! What a danger-filled story! Lots to be aware of in those situations! Some are aware; some are not!