Lanes engineers and firefighters work together to prevent blaze pollution

Lanes Utilities drainage engineers have worked with firefighters at the scene of a huge rubbish fire to remove thousands of litres of contaminated water before it could reach the sewage system and local rivers.

A two-person Lanes breathing apparatus team entered an area found to have dangerously high levels of hydrogen sulphide gas to empty the interceptor tanks using suction hoses, while firefighters stood by, ready to rescue them if a problem occurred.

Nearly 10,000 litres of highly-contaminated water was removed and taken away for safe disposal during the operation at Averies Recycling, in Marshgate, Swindon.

Lanes Utilities Director Andy Brierley said:

This was a very unusual operation. It is not often our teams get to work directly with the fire service on such a complex operation, while a fire is still being tackled. Our engineers did an excellent job. They showed the highest standards of health and safety and completed an important task to control a serious pollution risk in difficult circumstances.

The fire started in 1,000 tonnes of rubbish on July 22, sending a huge plume of smoke across Swindon, raising serious concerns about air and water pollution. It has since been contained by firefighters but not extinguished.

Thames Water called in Lanes Utilities, its wastewater network services contractor, to put in place pollution prevention measures while the fire was being tackled. These included placing pollution booms and pads around manholes to stop contaminated water getting into the surface and foul water drainage system.

The Lanes Utilities team, led by Field Manager Kevin Loader, worked closely with Thames Water, the Environment Agency (EA) and the fire service, to support a process of taking regular water samples across the site to make sure pollution was being contained.

As the emergency continued, two oil interceptor tanks on the site, and the build-up of contaminated water in them, became of increasing concern.

Kevin Loader said: “As we approached the interceptor tanks there was a strong smell of noxious fumes, so we quickly left the area. We then returned wearing full breathing apparatus and when we tested the atmosphere found very high levels of hydrogen sulphide in the tanks.

“We were able to report to the EA that the tanks were getting full, so it was agreed they had to be emptied.”

The Lanes team worked with the fire service to carry out a risk assessment and agree a safe methodology for the operation.

It was agreed that Lanes personnel would form the main breathing apparatus (BA) team to enter the restricted area, while a fire service BA crew would be on stand-by to act as a rescue team.

Six Lanes drainage engineers took part in the operation. Kevin Loader and Marcus Mueller, who regularly work together as a confined spaces rescue team, along with Chris Woods, made up the BA team.

They were supported by Dan Woods, Darren Taylor and Dean Simmonds who provided the additional resources required to efficiently and safely carry out the operation.

Lanes Field Manager Paul Edwards provided logistics support and Lanes Utilities Health, Safety Quality and Environment Manager Sarah Hurcomb was on hand to provide specialist safety advice.

Kevin Loader said: “The operation went very smoothly. The main difficulty was the extreme heat, due to working in protective clothing and wearing full breathing apparatus. We also had to come away every 30 minutes to change air tanks and check the equipment.

“Once the oil interceptor tanks were empty we flushed them out with clean water. The whole operation took seven hours.

“In 10 years working in the drainage industry, it’s the first time I’ve worked so closely with the fire service during an actual fire emergency. It was an excellent test of our procedures and ability to work well together as a team under pressure. It was very fulfilling for all concerned.”

A Lanes team remains on site 24 hours a day carrying out pollution monitoring on behalf of Thames Water.

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