Teamwork critical to extinguishing 500-gallon oil furnace fire in Farmington Hills

Metro Airport Fire Department provides mutual aid

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published July 21, 2020

 Farmington Hills Fire Department and Metro Airport Fire Department firefighters work to put out a 500-gallon oil fire that caught in a large steel treating furnace July 17 at Specialty Steel.

Farmington Hills Fire Department and Metro Airport Fire Department firefighters work to put out a 500-gallon oil fire that caught in a large steel treating furnace July 17 at Specialty Steel.

Photo provided by the city of Farmington Hills

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A 500-gallon oil fire that began burning shortly after 4 p.m. July 17 at Specialty Steel Treating Inc., 31610 Eight Mile Road, took Farmington Hills firefighters and the Detroit Metro Airport firefighters about two hours to put out. 

Before making the call to the Detroit Metro Airport Fire Department, over 20 Farmington Hills firefighters from all five local fire stations responded to the business and attempted to extinguish the flames with several methods — primarily with a dry chemical fire extinguisher that uses a chemical called Purple-K, commonly used to put out oil fires, as using water on oil fires is extremely dangerous. 

Not long after, however, the department’s supplies were depleted, and additional assistance was needed. That’s when command staff put in a request to the Detroit Metro Airport Fire Department for an aircraft rescue fire truck.  

Truck 7 from the Metro Airport fleet, which carries 500 pounds of Purple-K, arrived, and firefighters from both departments were able to extinguish the oil vat fire. The fire was fully extinguished just after 6 p.m. 

An investigation following the incident determined the fire has been caused by a power outage that made the steel furnace malfunction and catch fire. No employees or firefighters were injured in the incident. 

Representatives from Specialty Steel Treating Inc. declined to be interviewed for this story. 

“This is an excellent example of the importance of mutual aid, where fire departments help each other across jurisdictional boundaries,” Farmington Hills Fire Chief Jon Unruh said in a news release. “The emergency exceeded our local resources, so we were extremely grateful for the assistance from our mutual aid partners at the Metro Airport Fire Department with their specialty firefighting equipment.” 

According to the release, the Farmington Hills Fire Department is involved in three mutual aid groups in Southeast Michigan, including the Western Wayne Fire Department Association, the West Oakland Mutual Aid and Oakway — both of Oakland County. 

Unruh said the mutual aid partnerships his dpeartment is involved in are critical for certain emergency scenarios, as each community having all the different types of specialty equipment needed isn’t always financially feasible. Mutual aid resources have been utilized in incidents such as hazardous material spills, trench rescues and structural collapse scenes in the past. 

Call Staff Writer Jonathan Shead at (586) 498-1093.

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