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Inaccurate situational awareness: Fires in waste sites

Hazard Knowledge

The generic control measures for this hazard should be applied when dealing with any fire in a waste site or facility, whatever the size or complexity.

This guidance has been written to assist fire and rescue service personnel when responding to and dealing with a fire in a waste site. The hazards identified and their associated control measures are equally valid whether the site is a legal permitted site or an illegal site.

This guidance acknowledges that many legal waste and recycling sites comply with relevant regulations and are professionally managed. However, each year fires occur in permitted and illegal sites on a regular basis.

Some sites may have been altered since their original commissioning, leading to different material being stored or a larger quantity of material than the site can safely handle. These changes may have been unauthorised and could have a serious impact on the incident.

Stockpiling may be temporary or permanent, due to operators taking in more waste than permitted or delays in processing the waste. Site-Specific Risk Information (SSRI) that was obtained before stockpiling began may not reflect the resultant hazards.

When dealing with any incident, illegal activities should be considered a possibility, such as hazardous materials, medical waste, large quantities of domestic waste or explosives being illegally stored. This can present significant hazards.

Fires in stacks can be particularly difficult to extinguish using conventional firefighting approaches. This is particularly the case at sites storing treated wastes such as tyre crumb, wood chip or compost, because of the small particle size of the waste and the density of the stack.

Direct application of water, with or without firefighting additives such as foam, to burning stacks is often ineffective and may generate large volumes of polluted fire water and/or increase the hazard from the smoke plume, due to lower combustion temperatures.

Fires in landfill sites will pose their own difficulties as there may be very deep seated fires that may have been burning for months. The nature of the waste held on these sites will prove difficult to deal with and may hide many hazards such as sharps, chemicals, hidden voids and bio hazards, all of which will need to be identified and managed by all personnel attending the incident.

The very nature of the waste site environment and the quantity of waste held on-site and/or involved in the fire, means that fire and rescue service personnel may be asked to undertake arduous and physical tasks. Waste sites, especially landfill, can also be exposed to extreme weather conditions from a lack of shelter.

Incident commanders must monitor personnel welfare. For more information refer to National Operational Guidance: Operations - Consider welfare.