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#70: From firefighting to ammonia

February 3, 2021 | 1 hour 31 minutes 20 seconds

In this episode of The Accidental Safety Pro Podcast, our guest is Gary Smith, President and CEO of the Ammonia Safety Training Institute. Gary has a remarkably storied carrer and a fascinating rise to where he is today. This is our longest episode ever because we couldn’t pack Gary’s story into just an hour. You won’t want to miss this one!

Links and Show Notes

https://ammonia-safety.com/

https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/fa-264.pdf

Transcript

Jill James:

The Accidental Safety Pro brought to you by HSI. This episode was recorded January 29th, 2021. My name is Jill James, HSI's chief safety officer. And today I'm joined by Gary Smith, President and CEO of the Ammonia Safety Training Institute. Gary joins us today from his home near Santa Cruz, California. Welcome to the show, Gary.

Gary Smith:

Thank you, Jill. It's a pleasure.

Jill James:

Well, I cannot wait to ask you so many questions about ammonia and PSM and all these things that affect so many people. But gosh, before we get there, I can't wait to hear your story about how is it that you became an expert in this particular field? Because I'm guessing you just didn't jump in with both feet somewhere from somewhere.

Gary Smith:

Well, jumping in with both feet, it does play into the story.

Jill James:

Oh really? Okay.

Gary Smith:

So we'll go back to the early days. I actually started in the fire service for the City of Davis as a firefighter in 1970, and I was only 19 at that time. And so it was an opportunity to be a volunteer and go to college. So I was a resident volunteer. In my background, I come from a small town in Northern California called Fort Bragg up in Mendocino County, which is along the Northern coastline and it was pretty isolated from everything. So I didn't even know what a college looked like until I went and was there at Davis and I was attending Sac State. So anyhow, the bottom line of all of that is in my earlier years, I had a fear of the fire department because we lived up the street from the fire station. It was all volunteer.

When there was a call, the whistles would go off and the sirens go off. As a little guy, it scared the crap out of me, and then they would pound the street as they drove by and I thought, I have nothing to do with that. You know? And so as the years went by, I wasn't a big follower until college days and got an opportunity to get a free place to stay and volunteer to help. And then I realized, oh, this is a profession and it's not all volunteer. And in the mid '70s is when things started to change in the fire service. We had the absolute worst record of fire loss and as compared to any other industrialized country in the world.

Jill James:

Really?

Gary Smith:

Yeah. We had more deaths, more losses by far. And President Nixon at the time decided that that was unacceptable. And he formed a commission and it was, and they did a report called: America Burning. In that report, they identified the lack of training, that we had very poor personal protective equipment, as canvas turnouts and leather or fiberglass helmets that really weren't ... They covered your head. But as far as safety goes, we had breathing apparatus, but there was one of them in a suitcase that sat on the fire engine and if anybody dared use it, you'd be declared a "sissy". And so, and the chief always said, as long as he could stand in the doorway, he just hugged a nozzle and "go after the fire". And "Don't worry about putting on any breathing apparatus."

Jill James:

Oh, my gosh.

Gary Smith:

It was like an era of ... Actually there was a sense of pride of telling people that in a general sense that you were a firefighter and "that was the number one most dangerous occupation in the world". And I feel silly about it now because what a thing to brag about. And fortunately because of America Burning, the training programs improved the personal protective equipment improved. The staffing levels and the way we went about fighting fire improved. To make a long story short, we cut the fire losses, is the whole fire service using. The background of what happened with America Burning cut the life loss in half. And we've sustained that ever since, because things like smoke detectors and residential sprinklers and a lot of other fire prevention efforts. We never did inspections or any of those other things. And all of a sudden we had it: an aggressive fire prevention program. So I witnessed that, and I grew through that and I learned from that.

And so that's what really was the beginning of actually going from a pretty wild and crazy kid who did a lot of stuff in the teenage years that I probably shouldn't have. I've gotten away with not becoming victimized, me and/or my friends that we were together doing things that we wouldn't, we shouldn't have been. And so it was a careless lifestyle. And then all of a sudden, coming into an occupation, it was basically the same thing. It was careless and dangerous.

Jill James:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gary Smith:

And then seeing how it got turned around in what we did in prevention and mitigation, and preparation and training, and good equipment and a professional attitude. And now the pride is that we can battle situations that are very dangerous and do it effectively because we're properly prepared to mitigate and handle that.

So I was mowing the lawn at the fire station one Saturday, which was a part of our Saturday routine. Firefighting is not all fun and games, running calls and having all that excitement. There's a lot of that kind of work that goes on, just maintaining the house and the station, the equipment and all that stuff. And I was thinking, do I want to really make the rest of my career? I loved the job, but do I really want to just keep doing this?

Jill James:

Yeah.

Gary Smith:

And I always had that kind of something inside me that says, leading an organization or being able to take on the challenges and accomplish things that I watched happen with America Burning. Into my college life, I went to major in fire administration and I got a degree, a Bachelor's degree, and I started teaching. So different things like that just inspired me and said, "Let's move on."

I was lucky enough to get promoted through the Captain slot and then as a fire marshall in a community down south in Stockton area, a place called Manteca. I was the first fire marshall they ever had. And so I, again, working with the firefighters and getting them out, doing programs and trainings with the schools and doing inspections, this is the era of hazardous materials. It was in the late '70s where all of a sudden the washdown era, because that's what we did with anything that was ugly or unwanted is just washed it away down the gutters. And we didn't even have any idea where it went after that.

And in most cases, it went into waterways and environment and it got to the point where the pollution factor was getting so bad in the San Francisco Bay area and nothing was living. It was just absolutely pathetic and thank God for EPA and the move that began in the late '70s. Hazardous materials started to turn from things that just happen and just deal with them to our managed program. So there's another opportunity to see a transition and be a part of that.

Jill James:

What an interesting journey you've been on, Gary. I'm thinking about, you started with the fire service where essentially it's the Wild West, right?

Gary Smith:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jill James:

And then you have this pivot with America Burning. You were really young at the time where we might ... Hindsight being what it is and we're older adults know. You were in the adrenaline piece of invincibility, right?

Gary Smith:

Right.

Jill James:

You started that way. And then there's this shift. And so did that shift follow you as you were just maturing as an adult, as well, where it seemed like, oh yeah, this makes sense now that I really want to put on this SCBA and I want to protect myself. Did that journey, did it follow your maturity as well? Because it feels like it.

Gary Smith:

It did. But there's a lot of factors that are happening around you. I would speak to more to the younger audience and where you are doing things because you instinctively think they're the right things to do. And sometimes they're not. And sometimes they are. But you're very much influenced by those you're hanging around with, and those who have their beliefs that they live and you kind of follow that. And I had the good fortune to work with people who had been through their younger years and were developing professionalism. One captain I worked for where the transition with the breathing apparatus really came true, it was what do they call it? A significant emotional event that is a trigger point for a change? Well, we had a fire in a restaurant and one of the volunteer chiefs who was a good man, he's electrician, very sharp, but he was, his career was built around, pull the hose line in and get next to it.

If you want some air, because you can get some, at least a whiff or two, and go for the fire. And to heck with this breathing apparatus stuff. Well, the captain I worked for had already gotten past that. And I have to say that in some regards it was because we were becoming unionized, too. I don't mean to politicize the discussion here, but the union did do a lot for us in our ability to set up and negotiate and to really take the problems that we were having and deal with them. The younger group of leaders, they were buying into that. And I worked for a young captain and he stopped at that chief and told me to ... He was heading and he pulled the line out of my hand. I was just putting a hose into the regulator and I was ready to go in, but he just grabbed it and took off and he says, "Pull them out."

And I said, "Really?" He said, "Yeah, pull them out." So, okay. I grabbed them by the legs and pulled them back out of there. And man, talk about upset a person. He was livid. But the captain said, "I'll take it and go for it for the fire." And he pulled the guy out. And then we went in and we put it out. It was a smoky, dangerous fire. But we jumped on it small and it went out. When it came back out, now what's going to happen? Well, this electrician was also a great leader. He was just from a different era. And that experience for him when he had the bottom line, what he was doing and what he saw that I could do with the breathing apparatus and the whole story came clear. He was man enough to stand up with and say, "You guys are right." And at that moment, we won the chief over, as well, with regards to the era has to change.

Jill James:

Yeah.

Gary Smith:

And so together we did that. And maybe our country needs to learn a little bit more about that too. It's a give and take. When leaders know there's something right to be done and they stand up to it, even though they know they're going to catch crap, if it's for the cause that benefits everybody, you do it.

Jill James:

Yeah.

Gary Smith:

And so watching that and being a part of that, what happens, it doesn't say all of a sudden, tomorrow now I'm a whole different man. It was more shaping my judgment.

Jill James:

Right. It's the whole thing about when we know better, we do better.

Gary Smith:

That's right. That's exactly right. And we have to ... I think the more we abide by that instinct of interest to do the right thing, the more you want to do the right thing because good things happen. And when you watch others that don't, they might have an exciting moment, but in the long run, they lose if they don't take things on and do what's appropriately safe and effective. When it isn't conducive to what you're really trying to achieve, you figure out ways to make it safe and conducive. And that's kind of how the next phase of my life went with the hazardous materials.

Jill James:

Yeah. So you went from the washdown and then the realization that, yeah, that's not good.

Gary Smith:

Yeah.

Jill James:

Yeah. Next shift.

Gary Smith:

We were getting into some pretty ugly stuff like Malathion and such like that. Davis is surrounded by agriculture and a lot of situations where they do aircraft, the crop dusting, and some of this with pesticides at that time. Malathion, you get it on your skin and it doesn't take much, and you're gone. And so that was waking us all up. But then as a fire marshall, had more responsibility, and in Manteca, the electronics industry, we were right across the hill from Santa Clara, the Silicon Valley. The electronics facilities were building up quite rapidly. And they were using a lot of, oh, we used to call them methyl, ethyl bad stuff. I'll leave out the-

Jill James:

The ketone part. Yeah.

Gary Smith:

Yeah.

Jill James:

Okay. Methyl, ethyl bad stuff.

Gary Smith:

Yeah. We knew that it was something we didn't want to get around. But we weren't chemists, and so as a fire marshall, I had a part of the code, though, that I could use when they came to town is I could hire consultants and they had to pay the tab to teach us. What are we looking for here? What do we need to do when they deal with some of the chemicals that they're dealing with and set up to make, mitigate as much as we can so that they can go into business and do it safely. So, that was a good learning experience. The whole logic of prevention mitigation started to come into play. And then we started organizing our efforts to also be ready to respond.

One kind of funny story. We were getting to the point where the underground fuel tanks were really in our, as a city, we handled all of that. The tanks at that time were not double contained, nor monitored. And so the leaks would go into the ground and many times into the water system. Contamination factor was really getting very ugly. In fact, in a neighboring city, a city of Tracy, I remember they had one day, a traffic signal just blew up and they said, "Why the heck would a traffic signal blow up?" Did somebody shoot it or what? And it turned out that the gas vapors had gotten, because the plume had spread so much, it had gotten into the conduit. And when the lights switched from one color to the next, it ignited it. That's how bad the-

Jill James:

Underground-

Gary Smith:

Underground leaks were. So all the gas stations around, you had to pull the tanks and put new tanks in and make sure that they work properly. And then the whole hazardous materials management planning was beginning. And in a lot of controversy with industry because it was a major change. Most of them, they had what they called Care. It was a community of awareness and emergency response, but it was more in line with it. In those days, more of a voluntary effort that the Chemical Manufacturers Association bought into. So they were very helpful. And so, that was my first encounter with government industry and public safety coming together to do something. Now, it wasn't all roses because sometimes depending on what the issue was and who we're dealing with, there was a lot of conflict.

And it wasn't all that industry was being defensive. We were all over the page with regards to different jurisdictions, and there's a whole bunch of stuff going on with enforcing, even the federal codes with EPCRA-

Jill James:

Yeah.

Gary Smith:

And the different things that were going on with cleanup and readiness for dealing with managing hazardous materials.

Jill James:

Sure. Yeah, jurisdiction is the thing.

Gary Smith:

Yeah. In fact, when the Clean Air Act was passed, they put a clause in it that said within five years, it had to be evaluated. In that evaluation, they were to check out to see how things were going, as far as what the Congressional Act was all about with Sarah, and then how it was playing out regulation-wise well.

Well, EPA was the lead for that and they brought in local, state and federal agencies in and industrial players as well. And kind of like the America Burning story, except this one was all about chemical hazardous materials.

Jill James:

Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gary Smith:

And when they brought the commission together, I met with the chair of the group. He was an EPA region manager in Houston for the Texas region, which I think is Region 3, or whatever. But anyhow, he, Jim Stavis, what a great guy. He was a natural leader on top of being very sharp on chemicals. Because in Houston, especially the Harbor there, that's the hotbed of all chemicals. A lot of experience there. And they had in their organization, in EPA, they had an industrial liaison and they've really worked closely together. The liaison was the buffer between the two and because of their connection, they made a lot of progress on everything.

And all of a sudden I started seeing in a general sense and not, I didn't have this written out because again, as you mature, you experience, you get into a situation where you just absorb these things and all of a sudden you're doing them. Well, anyhow, this vision came to me as a tripod relationship between industry, government and public safety. Now industry holds the hazards. And we always talked about hazards, risks and threats, right. And depending on who was talking, and what you were saying, you would use the term intermixed. Sometimes hazards would be risks and risks would be threats and threats would be hazard. For me, it was all over the place. We just used the word kind of carelessly. Then I started really looking at it, especially with the experience.

And then the working with other professionals and said, well, "Let's define this a little better." What the difference between hazards, risks and threats?

Jill James:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gary Smith:

Now it's come clear. Hazards is what we live with day to day. Just look around you. You can spot hazards right in your workplace: electrical hazards, you've got tripping hazards, you got all those things. So hazards exist and you got to recognize them. You got to understand them. You got to know that they're there. The more you know about what they're all about, just like with my early days with fighting fire, if you know what it's all about, then you know what to do when you have to address the challenges that would occur. And so you do that because you assess the risks. Now, risks are not in your face. Risks are what can happen if things go wrong. If that hazard is mismanaged and it escapes containment, and it becomes real, there's a risk factor that says you could have done things to either detected that it was happening soon and addressed it before it materialized to be anything dangerous, or that you're prepared. If it does happen to, to deal with it and manage it and bring it back into scope because you have personal protective equipment.

... And manage it and bring it back into scope, because you have personal protective equipment and knowledge about how to contain and control it. So, risks kind of set the stage. Threats are the things that are in your face. Threats are like, okay, now it's happened, and now you either mitigate it and deal with it and stop it small, or start watching for the escalating factors, because it could quickly become catastrophic. And so, when you look at that in a big picture, as a fire chief and as a manager of... Emergency manager kind of an attitude, you're always looking at things with that understanding. Beginning with the fact that the hazard exists. We've done what we can in a risk management approach, to not only prevent it but prepare, so that if a threat does happen, we're ready to engage mitigations to bring it back into safe. And doing that is... We coined a phrase early on at the institute. We call it "prevent them all, or stop them small."

Jill James:

Beautiful.

Gary Smith:

And that logic has worked well for us. Because you know, when they finished with their clean air assessment, this team realized that it's a mess out there. At that point, even in the '80s and in the early '90s as well, the incident command system was very popular and used a lot in some departments. And in other departments, they had their own system, or in many they had no system. They just did things the way they did them. And law enforcement and fire were really on separate tracks. They weren't really using combined incident command system logic that they are today. And so, that was just one example, but the pieces were all over the place. There was overlap. There were conflicting regulations. There were conflicting approaches. And somebody in that group said... You know, because I interviewed them, a number of them that were there... They said, "Why can't we just have one plan?"

Jill James:

Yeah, right.

Gary Smith:

"Just one plan. You know, bring it all together with one plan." And they said, "Ah. Good idea. One plan." It's an integrated contingency plan, is what the formal name happened. But the one plan picked up. And with the one plan, it was like, okay. It really groups in everything from the hazards, risks and threats logic. I call them HRTs. They brought them all together and said, you know, "We have to deal with the preventative measures, the risk management measures, and the response measures."

And so, when it comes to that response measure, there's really four phases to an emergency. You discover it, and when you discover it, that means you hopefully had detection and you picked it up early, and that you've gone through the process and have trained well enough. Because discovery usually always happens with the industry, because they do the day to day. They have the hazards. They have the risks. They have the threats.

Jill James:

Yeah, it's the birthplace of it. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gary Smith:

Yeah. Yeah. It's where it's all going to start. And if they got their act together, they take process, safety, and risk management seriously, so they're ready in that discovery phase to jump on it and stop it small. And then they make the calls early. They get the 911 support. That support that they get has been... You know, they've trained together. They know enough about how to handle the scenarios that they have in their plan, and they do what they can together to stop that.

Now, I'm painting the rosiest of pictures, because believe me, I've seen chaos and a lot of really dysfunctional work happening in the first 30 minutes of just about every emergency I've ever responded to. And getting ahold of that and managing that is, many times... You know, getting chaos under control is to move the people that are creating the chaos out of harm's way, and then start to figure it out, which takes a lot of time. It's much better if you have a previously developed relationship, where when you get on the scene, you get a CAN report, and it's a simple logic. CAN is conditions. It starts with conditions. What's happening? What do you got? Actions. What have you done so far? You know, where are you with it now? And then what do you need from us? The N. What do you need from us? Conditions, actions, and needs.

Then if you have a basic site map and a basic checklist of how your emergency system control plan and the things that go into what you want to do right off the bat, and you're in sync, then the fire department and the industrial members that know their systems, they work together, and they address the challenges and stop the problems when they're small.

Now, the challenge goes back to how do you get that perfect world into shape, moving from chaos? And really, 90 plus percent of the calls were not going well, and-

Jill James:

And to do it quickly. I mean, the faster that you can get that chaos under control, the greater your success.

Gary Smith:

That's right. That's right. And so, I guess this is about the time that when it really came to recognizing this more than any other time, was this is about the time I was offered the job as fire chief in Watsonville. Watsonville sits near the Salinas Valley. We are in the Pajaro Valley, and it's like the fruit and vegetable source for the nation, and actually all over the world. Strawberries and apples and lettuce and broccoli, and all kinds of different things that are grown in the Salinas Valley and the Pajaro Valley go all over the world. And the industry, if you ever wanted to do a really good podcast talking to how the industry handles fresh vegetables and keeps them that way, it has a lot to do with the way they use ammonia refrigeration.

Jill James:

Oh, thanks for the tip.

Gary Smith:

And the fact that we are growing such an abundance of food has a lot to do with the fact that we use ammonia as a fertilizer. In fact, ammonia has been credited for saving a third of the world's population from starvation.

Jill James:

Wow.

Gary Smith:

Because we can fertilize the soils, and continue to do that in a way that the crops sustain and we go forward. And if you watch the process, they take lettuce off the field... They used to ice it and put it on rail cars and ship it across the country, and if everything went well, by the time it got to the East Coast, it had still enough life in it that they could sell it. But in many cases they had to dump a lot of it, because they would lose it in transit, because they just couldn't keep it fresh.

Jill James:

Yeah.

Gary Smith:

So, you know, they figured it out. They have these units. They call them hydro vacs. When the lettuce comes off the field, and they harvest in the morning, they have these huge forklifts that handle about 20 pallets of product, boxes up. It's like 20 foot wide, 30 foot wide and about 10 foot high, and they put it up on this rail, and it rolls into like a big railroad car. It's a huge metal thing. And they cool that lettuce down to one degree above freezing, which puts the lettuce to sleep, and it does no damage to it, but it keeps it fresh.

When they've got it at that temperature, they put it into the warehouse at that temperature, and they hold on to it and start shipping. And their marketing teams are working constantly where all this lettuce goes, and they have developed methods of getting it to all over the country. And when it's put out for people to buy, it's as fresh there as it is when we go down where it's just been picked here, and pick it up at the same store. So, the vegetable market has been really, for many years, developed around the fact that they use ammonia.

Jill James:

Yeah, so this is where ammonia enters your life.

Gary Smith:

Yeah.

Jill James:

Is through agriculture, and because of your job and where it was situated as a fire marshal.

Gary Smith:

Yeah.

Jill James:

Yeah. Interesting.

Gary Smith:

And you know, it went from electronics over in Manteca, and the beginning of understanding about ammonia. In fact, the team started to pick up the message about no longer doing wash downs and things like that. One quick story that was kind of funny. We had formed our hazmat team, and it was more we had to pick up with some gear, and we had people that were trained a little bit above everybody else. A lot of the training that we have now wasn't even available then, but we were more conscientious.

Anyhow, we got a call, and the engine went out one day and they said, "Yeah, there was a big truck here, earlier this morning. It's gone now, but there's this kind of milky looking substance in the gutter that leaked out of the truck." And I'm going, "Hmm." So they called it as hazmat, and they didn't wash it down this time. They had to go look at it. I said, "Oh, no." We had to figure out what it was. There was no odor or anything.

We're looking at it, and we're trying to figure out what could have been here, and all of the sudden I see this dog go over and start lapping it up. I go, "Uh-oh. That's different." And we got to looking at it. It was milk.

Jill James:

Is this when we started putting those placards with the real seal on them? Is this where this entered into the story?

Gary Smith:

Yeah, that's what it should have been. Because of course we had dairies all over the place, and we all went, "Duh. Geez." You know? And wouldn't you know it? The newspaper was there as we were going through all of these moves, and the headline for the day was, "Fire department cries over spilled milk."

Jill James:

Well, that's good.

Gary Smith:

So anyhow, yeah. There was those eras that we went through. But I really wanted to get back to the coast, and I had an opportunity to test for the fire chief's job in Watsonville. It's right on the ocean. It's in the Carmel, Santa Cruz area.

Jill James:

Beautiful area.

Gary Smith:

Monterey Bay area. So anyhow, I was lucky enough to get it, get the job. I was only 36 years old at that point. But you know, having started at 19, I had a fair number of years under my belt, and I'd done enough things in the variety of jobs that I had been doing, that they decided to go with me as their fire chief. And so, in Manteca and actually in Davis, too, I think we had one ammonia user in both of those communities. One cold storage facility in Manteca, and we had another one in Davis. So, all I remember for ammonia is it's noisy, they've got compressors, they've got pipes, they've got tanks. They've got ammonia, which I had no knowledge on the specifics, except it's got to be hazardous material. And you smell it-

Jill James:

And it smells. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gary Smith:

You know, it smells so terrible, it's like it's got to be ugly. And so, when I got to Watsonville there was 25 cold storage facilities. Because again, being as big as they were in food processing, and the fact that generally speaking, when a cold storage operation sets up, you've got all of the infrastructure behind that you've got to put into play. People who do the repairs on the system, and the marketing and the shipping. You have routes that have been developed around that. And so, it goes to reason that a group of them will locate close to each other, because it just works out in a better way for the big picture. So anyhow, that was over a million pounds of ammonia, and we had it all over the place.

Jill James:

Wow.

Gary Smith:

So I thought, "Whoa. Okay." I was in my first year, and all of the sudden one day the alarm goes off. It came in as a power pole transformer that was arc flashing. Well, that's a single engine response. They went on it, and I just kept working. Then they called for a second alarm, and it was an ammonia release and fire. So, okay. Now we're talking. I get to the scene, and the transformer was arc flashing. It started in the engine room with just a circuit breaker box.

To cut to the quick, what had happened is the breaker... It was 80 degrees in Watsonville, which on the coast is like 100 degrees other places. It gets really warm. A fresh load of peaches had just come in from the valley, and an old refrigeration system in the engine room was not... The compressor room, I should say. They always called it engine rooms, but it's actually a compressor room.

Jill James:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gary Smith:

But they had old equipment and electrical that had been giving them problems, and rather than fix the circuitry, they just do this many times. They just reset, or do whatever else they can do to kind of keep things going. Well, on that day, that arc flash just blew that whole panel, and then it kept arc flashing. It wouldn't stop. The fire started in the engine room. When I got there, I remember it was happening there. You could hear it go off, you know, and you could see the sparks. And we couldn't attack it, because it was still live.

I asked, "Well, can you get the power shut down on this?" And they had no idea about how to cut it, because all the circuitry was in where the fire was. So, we had the utility company coming. Then all of the sudden their main transformer outside started doing the same thing, and it was really big. I mean big arc flash white fire bouncing all over the place. You know, "Holy crap." This is my first experience on even anything to do with cold storage, and here we had these things going.

So, I turned to my assistant chief and I said, "So, what's going to happen with the ammonia?" Fire, yeah. We could handle that. But the ammonia was like a new one. And he says, "I don't know." We knew we had a problem with the arc flash, but what's that going to do with regards to when that ammonia heats up? Are we looking at a potential for bleve, or are we looking at... And no. It was just blank stares, including the engineer for the plant. And by that time, there was four or five other engineers that had come, those that work on systems and such, and nobody had any feedback, and I didn't have time just to kind of go interview each one of them. The incident was unfolding, and there we were, right in front of the dang thing.

So anyhow, finally the power company... They had to go around and they had to pull pole fuses. They had to go all the way around the block, because the plant was being fed by power from two different directions, and nobody knew that. And so, finally they did get the power out, and we attacked the fire. We got in there and put it out, and everybody thought, "Wow." Because we saved the cold storage part. There was a firewall in between, which I asked about, but nobody knew anything. I wanted to know if the fire would penetrate and go on through, but it didn't. And so, we held it there and put it out.

And I remember going back to the station and thinking, "You know... " Everybody was really happy that we were doing that, and I heard people say, "Ah, that Watsonville Fire Department, man. These guys know how to take care of problems." And I thought-

Jill James:

And you're like, "No, I don't."

Gary Smith:

No. That's right. In fact-

Jill James:

You're like, "I got lucky."

Gary Smith:

... I had a few more explicitives in my mind about, "What the hell is going on?" Nobody knew anything, you know? And so, I'm thinking like, "What? Now where do we go?" You know? And then I get back. It was not but a day or two later, and I get the fire engineering magazine. I open it up, and the headline on it was a firefighter killed in Shreveport in an ammonia refrigeration incident. And I'm like, "What?" And I'm reading through it, and it says that the ammonia flashed and caught them.

They were wearing butyl rubber entry suits, level A suits, and when it flashed it caught their suits on fire, and Percy Johnson died. A young man. You know, just young kids and a family. He couldn't get out. And Pat, he was a little bit more senior and knew a little bit more about... You know. He tried to get Percy to follow him, but it was so... Percy was in worse shape, and couldn't keep up with him. And he got out, but he got really bad, serious third degree burns, and actually died on the scene several times but was revived. You know, he had a heart, cardiac issue. Anyhow, he survived it.

This had just happened a month before, so I called Shreveport Fire and I got ahold of the training chief, and I told him the story. I said, "You know... " And we made arrangements. We kept in touch. About six months later Pat was able to travel, and he actually came out. We paid for him to come visit. We needed to learn more about that. Meanwhile, like I said before, it was time to turn to industry. The chemical supplier was Hill Brothers Chemical, and Hill Brothers was one of those care type facilities. Doug Hill was a big kind of an early supporter of building that care logic. He felt, "If I'm going to sell these chemicals, I want to make sure that people use them safely." He had a heartfelt passion for that.

They had just finished, at that same time, a big release that happened in San Jose. A rail car pull away where the rail company actually pulled a car out that was still being hooked up and used, and when they pulled it away, they broke the line. They had a terrible problem going on as far as controlling that, and it didn't go well. And ours didn't go well.

Then we met up with an engineering group. It's called the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association, RETA for short. They had people that understood systems inside and out, but they didn't have any background on this fire issue. They thought it was like ammonia won't burn. They said, "If anything, there's oil, compressor oil. Maybe that would burn, but the ammonia won't burn." And I said, "Well, it did." You know? "You can't say it didn't, because one firefighter is dead, and another one is seriously burned, and it was the ammonia. It was the refrigerant."

And so, they actually locally started to understand, "You know, you're right. Something is wrong here, and we're not going to fight you on the idea. We just need to understand why." And I said, "Yeah, that's right. That's where we need to go, is understand why." And then-

Jill James:

So, you're... Yeah, go ahead.

Gary Smith:

Go ahead. No.

Jill James:

I'm just piecing this together, that by way of circumstance, you took yourself to school.

Gary Smith:

Yeah.

Jill James:

And you created the school with the industry partners, and your own background and knowledge, to build your own expertise, because you didn't necessarily have a choice. You know? I mean-

Gary Smith:

That's right.

Jill James:

Yeah.

Gary Smith:

That's right. And you know, I want to say before I lose that opportunity, because you just triggered a really important fact about this whole story, is this... You know, while I'm telling it, and I was in the center of a lot of it... We wouldn't have gotten anywhere if I didn't have a good team. I had people who I didn't have to convince that we needed to study it. They were right there with me.

In fact, we only met the Refrigeration Engineers and Technicians Association because of a firefighter that was one of our hazmat techs that we had trained. He had heard of them, and he attended a session that they had in, I think it was Gilroy or something. He said, "These guys really know ammonia." And I said, "Oh, perfect." You know, "Invite them over. Let's meet." And they brought Doug with them and we had a meeting, and it was... You know, when you have chapter changing moments, just like pulling that chief out of the fire that time. All those things that happened, they're significant emotional events. And that was... Meeting Doug Hill, and the team that came that day, that really kind of gave us a lesson on refrigeration, and listened to our concerns about what we just went through, was fantastic.

You know, we then started working together, and they were having a...

We then started working together. And they were having an annual conference in the near future that they said would I speak at, and I said, "Well, geez, I'm just fresh in this."

Jill James:

You're just getting to know it.

Gary Smith:

Yeah. I don't know what the heck I would talk about. And they said, "Well, that's all right, because we've asked, I think, the six or eight different fire chiefs about talking about it, and none of them want to do it for the same reason." They said, "We don't know why." We can't talk about something we don't really even understand. And I said, "Okay, well, it's time to do the homework, then, and I'll do it." And it was the best thing I ever did, because now the team was exposed to a higher level of knowledge about ammonia in the system. We learned about why that arc flash didn't stop, because arc flash a lot of times, and this happens with wires down sometimes, too, where it'll hit the ground and it'll arc flash. And the power company sometimes sends another charge through, because it's thinking that a branch might've hit a wire ...

Jill James:

Burned it up.

Gary Smith:

... or something and it wants to clear. So that's one reason why it'll jump back up again. But when it's in a circuit breaker panel where it's so close, when the poles are close enough, there's a gas that goes from one pole to the other, and it's like an arc welder operates.

And so when it comes pole to pole, it'll flash again, and that's what was happening is that until they cut the power off at the power pole, that gas was arc flashing, and it just kept doing it. And I'm saying for like 15, 20 minutes before they finally got to the pole that cut it off. So those are the kinds of things we started learning and sharing knowledge on, and we got a lot more on the ball with regards to how to deal with these issues.

And just to kind of bring it along, we started locally bringing in. We created a plan where we would bring in all the facilities, all 25, and they would bring in their people and we had a nice training tower and a classroom and things like that. And we would have regular meetings where we learned and planned together. And part of it was, I mean, we hadn't really gotten the ... Our emphasis in the early days of this hazmat stuff was to build hazmat teams, get equipment. There was grants available. We were able to do a lot of stuff that they could pick up the physical side and the training, and it was all geared around we'd have a team that would be able to go out and be able to deal with these ammonia releases, and that would be a big solution and we would work cooperatively and make it happen.

And that worked, but that wasn't really the answer. That was what it became in some respects. And the bigger picture, it became a part of our history, if you look at hazmat development where we went forwards and then fell backwards a couple steps. Going forward was building the teams, and that was good. And they have sustained and they're very valuable, these hazmat teams. But to depend on them for all four phases of response is a big mistake, because what happened is we in the early days, and the whole hazmat rules really started to pick up with OSHA being more involved with mandated trainings and PPE requirements and EPA the same, is they said, "Well, shoot. Level A all the way. That's the solution."

So what does that cause to happen? It says, "Oh, okay. So if we have a ammonia release or anything chemical, we'll just call the hazmat team." And how long does that take to get a hazmat team operational?

Jill James:

Right. And not every community is going to have that.

Gary Smith:

In some cases it's hours away.

Jill James:

Right.

Gary Smith:

And even in metro areas, to set up a hazmat team to engage, if you could do it in 30 minutes, you're darn good. And I've done now after the years have gone by, I've been in most every metropolitan area that exists in US and a lot in Canada and South America and Australia and Poland and all over the world, and it's just the same thing. I mean, the hazmat team has a purpose. It's a tool and it's a great tool, but you know where the gap was? It's in the first 30 minutes. That's when.

In discovery and in that initial response, there's two things that are critical. Number one is people are now still close to the problem. They haven't fully evacuated. Some of them may be trapped. The incident is initial, usually smaller, but it's growing. And what happened with the regulations is they got so tight that they set up IDLH, Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health factors, for every chemical. Well, that becomes such a gospel, such a line in the sand, that from a prescriptive side of requirements, you can't do anything unless you got technician trained and proper PPE, and this level A all the way logic was in play.

And so a whole culture got developed around delaying anything happening for the first 30 minutes, instead of really having performance related experiences and trained incident commanders who knew how far they could go with a given chemical, especially when you have 25 cold storage facilities and as much background we had on ammonia, 300 parts per million we knew was, well, even by the standard, that's survivable for 30 minutes with nothing, no training. That's for the general public, young, old, and otherwise. So why are we now prohibited from engaging emergency shutdown logic, or system controls, and dealing with a problem to try to stop it when it's small in a performance basis? But no, you're cited if you do anything.

Jill James:

If you do that.

In fact, there's a fire chief we're working with now, several of them up in Oregon and Washington, they were cited, even though they had level A. But because the monitor that they had was not working to be able to judge the atmosphere for what it was, but they could see and know it was at the phase that they could go in and shut it off with level A. And they had enough training and knowledge and background to do that, but because they did that and the OSHA inspector happened to be watching them, they got a very heavy fine put on them because they didn't monitor it, because it was over IDLH.

So there's things like that are happening that really, then, makes for ... It just gets out of sync. It's not right. So that's what we have right now.

Jill James:

Yeah. So it's still a work in progress. I wanted to ask, as you were describing some of this, the progression of how some of these rules came about from establishing hazmat teams and incident command systems and EPA laws started to come around throughout your career, and you started to mention OSHA. Is that when PSM, or Process Safety Management, came in somewhere in this phase?

Gary Smith:

Yes, it is. And I'm glad that you brought that up, because that ... I actually had two trips to Washington DC on this whole issue with the one plan and what we were trying to do with it, because after I realized, and our team all agreed, that the first 30 minutes was so valuable, that's when we built the 30-minute plan. It's a one-page checklist of four phases of response. It has discovery, initial response, and then sustained response, where you're now engaging to go into the hazard area, and then you have to have certain information available to you to even do that safely, even if you are in level A. And then the fourth phase is termination and recovery, which anybody that works any kind of emergency management role at all knows that that many times that's the hardest and most long-lasting and expensive phase is terminating and recovering and putting a plant back on its feet again. Many times they fail. They go under, and everybody suffers.

So anyhow, but the bottom line is in that first 30 minutes, we knew we had to adjust for performance related. Risk assessment type of decisions that you have to have enough wisdom to be able to judge, "Go, no go." If I can see a victim and they're in a situation and there's still signs of life, and I have turnouts and breathing apparatus and I can do a grab and go with the proper procedures, and I know it's ammonia and I know that that turnout because our ... What we did is started training. We were lucky enough to get access to a training facility at Fort Ord. It was a military village training center. They call them a mount, where they have ... It's called the impossible city. It's got a whole village of cement buildings, cement block buildings, a gas station, a plaza with some office buildings, a little residential area. It's really neat. And we were able to do ammonia releases and learn a lot about the dynamics of aerosol, vapor, and gas and the movement of them and how to contain them.

Because of working with the associations, [inaudible 00:59:08], as I mentioned earlier, and then International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration is called IIAR, as well as the International Association of Refrigerator Warehousers, a global cold chain. These represented thousands of different facilities, and they're very good, professional development operations.

And so anyhow, I got closer with them and we started working together and understanding a lot more of the dynamics of what we could do on dealing with that first 30 minutes so we could deal with critical tasks, rescue and getting people out of harm's way, containing the release.

I went to Sweden with a friend that I met in IAR. His name was Anders Lindborg. He was known worldwide as the king of the ammonia industry, I mean, because he was so sharp. He was a big Swede and he had a loud voice. Especially when people challenged on coming out with some crazy ideas, he would put them back in their place real quick, because he was so wise. And he became a personal friend and family friends, and we spent a lot of time together. And part of what he brought me over and showed me with a group called Hydro Care, how the tarp and cover logic work. How you could throw a tarp over an aerosol and knock the aerosol down and keep that aerosol from driving out and making a large plume in the distance, affecting big population, where you could actually hold it in a much smaller area by just containing it, and then the hazmat team could come in with proper PPE to actually get inside and control it and deal with it in its final phases.

Jill James:

Fascinating.

Gary Smith:

And how to use fans properly. And then the upside and downside of water, because we're tradition bound to put water on everything. And when you put it on ammonia, especially if you put it on liquid or aerosol, what it does is it mixes. So ammonia and water love each other and you mix a good solution and you're getting up in a 20, 30% ranges, and you could have the ammonia vapor cloud is going to be just as bad as it is if you left it alone. Because it still evaporates, and when it evaporates, it's got a pH factor of over 11. And so it's going to burn. It's going to stay low. It's going to be a lot of ... It's a bigger problem.

But there's other times when water works really good to buffer and allow for quick entry or knock down a cloud to see a valve and shut it off or those kinds of things. So learning that, and then training it is how we evolved. And part of it was that I figured that if we had a checklist and playbooks for those four phases of response, we could actually capture facility related data and put it in a format that was simple to use, pictures and maps and checklist details that would say how you would handle each one of those phases.

And that they would become more self-sufficient themselves, because what industry started doing is when OSHA started cranking on on all the requirements, well, they gave up on breathing apparatus and hazmat teams of their own. It would just cost them too much and it was too hard to sustain it based on the fact that a plant, you might go 20 years and never have a single incident that has got any threat to it. And then tomorrow you got an incident that goes catastrophic because nobody does anything until the hazmat team gets there. So the ammonia is left to do what it's going to do, and it grows into a big incident.

So I went to Washington. It was when Fukushima, the second time is when Fukushima had just happened, and down the hall the EOC and EPA was open and they were working the Fukushima. We were in the conference room, and we had chemical safety board, US Fire Administration, DOT, a lot of the players who were working together on the original one plan team, and Jim Staves, who was the chair, which was wonderful. And so I had enough created. There was four of us from our team, and we showed them the 30-minute plan, and we showed them this idea we had for playbooks. And I wanted to know, "Is there anything out there right now that does this? Because if there is, that's all we need. We'll support that effort and keep it going." And they said, "No."

Jill James:

And if not, no we have a suggestion.

Gary Smith:

Yeah. And that's what it turned out to be. And so they said, "No, there's things that they're being talked about." And the chem responder program was just beginning. Because of Fukushima, that's a FEMA based system that is very similar to what we were thinking. We work with chem responder now. It's a great effort, and a lot of fire agencies don't know it's there yet because they just debuted the chem version. They had the rad responder for radioactive, but now they have the chem responder. You can get mapping and plume modeling, and it can be right on your phone or on your laptop as you roll into a scene.

Jill James:

Fascinating.

Gary Smith:

You can do a lot of really good stuff with the chem. That would be a good interview for you, too, because ...

Jill James:

Yeah, no kidding. Thank you.

Gary Smith:

... they're really great people. They'd love to do that. But anyhow, the bottom line is they said, "No," and I said, "Okay, well, we could work on it, but how would we get it out there?" And they said, "Well, if you're thinking about it being a requirement, we can't even enforce what we've got in a good way as far as emergency planning goes, because it's hard to judge it. I mean, to see somebody that has a good working emergency plan is to see them actually perform. And how are we going to go out and make sure everybody is performing?" He said, "You're going to have to find a way to make it so they want to have it." And that was the aha moment, is, "Okay."

So the angle is build something that is simple, easy to use, but yet goes deep when you need it to to get the details that you want. So we started working on it and now we're ready. I think next month we'll probably go ... We're going live with the training with providers that'll be putting it out into the public view. But we have four playbooks, one for each phase of response. We have master maps and we have checklists. And we have ways of taking simple to detailed that you can have as a web app on your phone or in your laptop.

So that's going to help a lot and it's going to make plants so they're more self-sufficient. Get them back into the ball game on emergency response, and process safety management is now more than just like emergency planning. You write the plans, and then what? They sit in a book and nobody looks at them.

Jill James:

Nobody looks at them until the OSHA investigator shows up and they blow the dust off or when something's going sideways.

Gary Smith:

That's exactly right. And the sharp inspector knows if they look at their process safety manual and they see notes all over it and greasy fingerprints, they say, "Okay, this company is doing something, and that's a thumbs up." Believe me.

Jill James:

That's right.

Gary Smith:

Because most-

Jill James:

Yeah. I mean, Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, as a-

Gary Smith:

And so ... Go ahead.

Jill James:

I saw that. I saw that as a former ... I was an OSHA investigator for over a decade.

Gary Smith:

Oh, so you know.

Jill James:

I do. And the last catastrophe that I investigated was an explosion at an ethanol plant, and a young man lost his life in that and two others were injured. And when I was reviewing their processes, that's exactly what happened, Gary. I'm like, "Where's your documentation? Where's your processes? How were you supposed to do this or what did you claim to do?" And they wheel in by the little red wagon load all these binders, and they're all pristine minus the dust. And every step in a process had one big pen line through it with a date on it, like they weren't doing anything other than, "Hey, we better put a date in this process. And then we're going to take our big pen here and just put one line through all of these things."

Gary Smith:

Oh, boy.

Jill James:

You can imagine what happened with the investigation. But anyway, I understand what you're saying. Yes, you want to see the greasy, dirty ones. You want to see the ones that people can start talking about and get excited about how they executed their plan.

Gary Smith:

Exactly.

Jill James:

Not the other way. Yeah.

Gary Smith:

I had my partner with me from the industry. His name is Sonny Bossaduo. But back in the '80s, when I was first learning, Sonny was my same age. And so we were both young and he was just becoming a plant operator manager for Americold. and he had the bug to do things right. I mean, that's just the way he did everything. His plant was always clean. I mean, it's 30 years. Well, oh gosh, it's 40 years old now. And when Sonny was in charge, it looked brand new every year. I mean, they kept it up really spotless. And when you looked at his PSM manual, they got yellow stickies and notes all over it and he took it seriously, just like what we were doing with the emergency planning element.

So the two of us really did a lot on working on pre-emergency readiness logic. So when you're doing high-risk maintenance, that you also include the fact that this could go bad. And if it does go bad, why not have your command team ready to take action? And so alerting them as to when ... One time he was changing out a valve and a condenser, which on an ammonia system, that's high pressure stuff. And he had to isolate the condenser, got to drain it down and pump it out, and then change the valve and put it back in together. A lot of moving parts, and it's a dangerous time. So he did pre-emergency readiness, and lo and behold, the transfer line, when they're moving the ammonia out of the condenser, broke. It was a braided line. It was made for portable movement of ammonia. It broke, but they already knew that that was one of the areas that they were concerned about. If something happened, what would we do to isolate it?

And he didn't miss a beat. He took command. He made his notification. When you look at a command team in an industrial facility, you need four people. Somebody to take charge, always. That's the law. Somebody to take charge who can meet and work with the fire department, give the can report, coordinate operations for the industry. You need, also, somebody who we call the lead responder, who really knows the emergency, knows the operation of the ammonia system and is the go-to guy for doing emergency system control, and that's all they focus on is system and the problem and how to deal with the problem and report directly to the incident commander.

Thirdly, you need somebody who's taking charge of notification and documentation. Somebody who's going to make the calls. And they have to be alert. They have to be one of the first to get the ball rolling, a lot occasions, is make the alerts, get the rest of the team going, and make the calls based on what you got. And then, of course, the fourth person is, and this is all in sync. They work as a team. It's called the evacuation group supervisor in charge of all the people issues, and including access control and meeting the fire department director into the command post and a lot of those kinds of things. So those four people are alerted and when-

... of things. So those four people are alerted. And when that hose broke, he went to the commander, and he became the commander. And his lead responder knew what they were to do. And then the notification went to the clerk, who was the notification officer who could make the calls, and the whole process was beginning. But as it was starting, because they were in sync, they were able to isolate that almost immediately.

And what it turned out to be is a blow off of ammonia that went into the atmosphere and was quickly shut off. The good thing about ammonia, of course, is that it is a natural product, and when it goes to atmosphere, it lives in the atmosphere for about a week. It breaks down to nitrogen and hydrogen, which is in the atmosphere already, and has no effect on global warming. It doesn't have any impact on the ozone or any of the other things that atmospheric gases cause. In its pure form, getting it to atmosphere and letting it break down is safe.

Anything has got dangers. If you've got a lot of ammonia, like in feed lots and things like that that's going up all the time, well, it's mixing with other things in the atmosphere. And there is a pollution factor that you have to deal with. Just like anything that you release, you can't just let it go. You got to understand it deeper than that. But from the standpoint of small releases like that, that's what you want it to do, go to atmosphere and let it break down.

So anyhow, the bottom line is PSM comes into play in even a more effective way, because now in the playbooks we're doing pre-event readiness and emergency system control is one of the things that the process safety management requirements have as a requirement that you can, in fact, engage when you have procedures, a system control plan. In fact, you're supposed to build it for components within your system. The process safety management logic is interfaced into the playbooks, and it works good.

Jill James:

Yeah. So Gary, everything that you've been talking about has been building up to, I'm assuming, what was the birth of what we talked about at the beginning when I introduced you as the Ammonia Safety and Training Institute. It's been a work in progress, it sounds like, all these years, and you're still working on it now and introducing new things and ways to make this more understandable and consumable, so people don't have to learn it by the way that you did through trial and error. And it sounds like mostly trial.

But for our guests who are listening to this, a lot of what you've shared in your stories have just been phenomenal today. Ammonia or process safety management and hazardous materials, these kind of things are vexing to a lot of people, particularly when they're starting out in their jobs like, "Oh my gosh, PSM, how am I going to do that? That sounds really complex." Or, "Ammonia, that's really scary." If people are listening and thinking, "Okay. Everything Gary's talking about is my life right now except I don't even know where to start." Resources, Gary, what would you recommend for people as they're scratching their head and going, "Oh, behemoth."

Gary Smith:

That's a very, very good question, because it goes back to what we started about when we first started talking about taking those opportunities to recognize you got a gap and you got to fill that gap. The answer comes back to what got me into this whole process with ASTI, the Ammonia Safety Training Institute, and it happened in 1991. We had already been, Doug and I, and the Hill Brothers group, and the RETA chapter and a lot of the players locally, we already knew we needed to organize something, because nobody had anything going on with regards to the emergency response with ammonia in public safety or in the industry that really had a handle on the kinds of things that we were recognizing.

We created that and we started providing training, and training and networking with other individuals, and sharing experiences, and listening to podcasts like this, and having resources available to you where you continue to build your knowledge base and your connection with people. Because I know that I talked a lot about what I went through, because that's what the questions were, but as I mentioned earlier, there's many, many hundreds of people that have directly impacted this whole story and they continue to. It's growing even more so now, where we have affiliates in other countries even. So you learn a lot from being a part of the network, and joining associations, and really being serious about wanting to do it better.

My favorite young developing leaders, his name is Alan Gervais, he works for Western Precooling, and Craig Miller, the owner of Western Precooling, and Don Tragethon, who is his right-hand man for engineering. Just like the Hills and just like the rest of our board members. We have the president, Frank [Wiener 01:18:18] of Airgas Specialties, he's on the board. And we have Manny Ehrlich, who is just retired off the Chemical Safety Board, he's on the board. And I could go on, Kent Anderson, who had went for years as the president of the IAR, and continues to help and is a board member as well. I mean, these people have tons of knowledge and ability. We have operators and managers and leaders in here. And so, you can get just about any question you have answered.

So getting back to how does the struggling person do it? Well, Alan... We've been doing safety days for years, where we provide free training to people. And he does a class about how he was in a whole nother industry. He worked for, I think it was a locksmith or he put in doors and locks, and he had hands-on ability, and he was just a natural leader in a lot of things he did. He doesn't carry a big ego, he's very discreet about knowing what he doesn't know, and being open to learning what he doesn't know. And because he knows there's a lot out there and all he has to do is find the right people and ask the right questions. Well, he struggled with that at first, because he was thrown into a job in a way, because when they hired him to do basic safety stuff, all of a sudden he was put in charge of managing a whole cold storage facility. And he knew nothing about it, just like I did when I came on fire.

And what he did though, is he talked to enough people who directed him to people that could mentor and help them. And when he went there, he didn't go begging for, "Come over and do this for me," it was, "Help me be stronger and give me some information that I don't have now about what I should be doing." And then he would go do it. Well, to make a long story short, in a very short three, four years, he was managing that facility and really doing a great job. And now, he works for Craig Miller and Don Tragethon, because they do a lot of maintenance and repair for a lot of these hydrovacs and cold storage facilities. And so, he's the safety manager for them.

A very effective and another great interview about how do you progress. He did a whole session about going from having no knowledge to all of a sudden... He would be the first to say, "I don't have it all. I'll never have it all, but I feel a lot better today because of the way I engaged and got help from others." It's a dynamic that you just have to recognize and know that you don't know, that's the first step, and then do something about it and plan it out.

Jill James:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, we'll be sure to, in the show notes for this episode, to include a link to the Ammonia Safety and Training Institute, for sure, Gary. As well as, gosh, I'm so interested to know if America Burning is something that is a text that we can get our hands on, because I have a feeling people are probably Googling it while we've been talking, because that sounds super interesting, too.

Gary Smith:

Yeah, it is.

Jill James:

Yeah. As we wrap up our time today, and my gosh, thank you so much for all of the stories and all the time you've given. It's been excellent.

Gary Smith:

Oh, it's been fun.

Jill James:

I wanted to ask just a couple more things. You had mentioned to me when we talked prior to the recording that ammonia is the most popular chemical in the world.

Gary Smith:

Yeah.

Jill James:

I mean, that sounds kind of out there to say, right? But exciting stuff about ammonia today. Why is it so popular and what's exciting about it?

Gary Smith:

Well, the early days, as you know, that the fact that it's a great fertilizer and it's a very efficient refrigerant for large systems. Because of its chemical factors, it's got really a good latent heat type of... So what that means is you can take an ammonia refrigeration system and the ammonia will hold heat in a way that when you use it as a coolant, it absorbs a lot of the heat that comes into the system from the evaporators. And it doesn't need to be compressed as much, because it handles a lot more heat load and releases it out of the condensers. So it's efficient. It saves a lot of power, which saves the industry from polluting as well. Well, that's been good. Obviously, the agriculture has been good, I don't know, a third of the population living today because they can get food.

But the thing that's exciting is that just recently over the last, I've been following this Ammonia Fuels Association for about 20 years, they had a program. It's a group of professors from different universities and a few entrepreneurial innovators that when the fuel shortages got really tough during the cartel days in the 80s and such, a few people converted their cars to run on ammonia. And in fact, in World War I, World War II, in that era, the buses in Germany ran on ammonia. So ammonia as a fuel has always been a possibility. It's just that it doesn't have the octane factor and the availability of gasoline, which gasoline is, in my mind, much more dangerous than ammonia, but that's a different story.

But anyhow, the bottom line is now they can make ammonia out of air and water, meaning they have the Haber-Bosch process that could be run by solar, hydraulic, or any natural form of energy that's environmentally safe. You build the synthesizer, the electrolyzer I should say, that has the capacity to take air and water and make ammonia out of it. And so, what we have then is the ability to make the ammonia and store it. Those that are pretty heavy into the fossil fuels already are not as anxious to look at this option, but the Japanese came to us, because they had Fukushima, as you remember, and they're very on top of it environmentally. They have a small country and they don't allow chemicals or ammonia is not even a part of life at all there. But they had heard about the potential that it has, because it can be manufactured green and it could be an alternative for the power industry.

So there was about, I think it was six or eight engineers that came over. They had heard about me through the associate somehow from one of our engineers, from process safety engineer Jerry Jones, I believe it is introduced them. And they came over and... Oh, I got to stop it right there. That John Mott, who was from Australia, who was the President and CEO of Gordon Brothers, and when he retired, he had been working with me on the ammonia safety issues, because he was a part of the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration, too. And we became very good friends at the same time I met [Ander 01:26:03]. And he's an engineer and knew a lot about things. And so, John worked with a fuels association in Australia, and then he made the link with these Japanese folks, engineers, that wanted to figure out, "Can we live with ammonia?"

And I said, "Well, we got 25 plants right here. You want to..." So they were amazed. We had a great time together, a couple days, and we went around and we looked at it and we talked about it, and they were very gracious, and it was fun. And they went home and I never heard anything more. And then about a year later, all of a sudden there's a video out. If you just Google green ammonia and put Japan after it, they have a wonderful video that shows how they're going to be using ammonia in the power production industry. And in fact, they have a Toyota car that runs on ammonia. And they have a number of uses that even augment some of their power generation, because ammonia is used to reduce the NOx, the nitrous oxides that are created by using the clean coal logic.

And so, they're going to really step up their use of ammonia, which then got the maritime industry interested. Which they use a lot of the shipping that uses millions and millions and millions of tons of bunker oil, which is highly polluting with carbon. They are also looking at ways that cut that back, and LPG and some of the other things that they've been working with. And ammonia now is what they would like to also add to their mix on reducing their carbon output.

Australia, and now there's like a, God, there's 10 or 12 of these green ammonia plants popping up all over the place. Their plant is going to be producing the green ammonia. And now we're working with Singapore and they're going to transport it to Japan and other places that will use it, so they don't have to store a lot of it. Because Australia, especially, outside of Perth and in some of the areas, they have places they can safely store and transport, it's really closer.

So the South Pacific started the ball rolling, and then Saudi Arabia is kicking in and some of the other countries. And I know I've been working with Department of Homeland Security and CSAC and some of the scientists there. They're definitely interested in looking more at how to be able to handle the load, because right now we use over 500 million tons of ammonia throughout the country in different ways. And so, getting it in play and getting the infrastructure going is something that needs a lot of work.

It's a really a great possibility for really dealing with a lot of the carbon output with a product that, it's scary, people are scared of it when they realize how to handle it. Recently, we had an unfortunate circumstance where we lost, what, five people the other day in a nitrogen incident, asphyxiated and frozen. Well, ammonia does the same thing, but there's one big difference. Ammonia stinks so badly. You remember that first thought about ammonia?

Jill James:

Yup.

Gary Smith:

It's scary. It stinks.

Jill James:

I got to get out of here.

Gary Smith:

I got to get out of here, yeah. And so, what do you do? With ammonia, you just go inside, because the gas is lighter than air in a general sense, and it's going to want to escape. It doesn't want to get into a warm building, it's a cold gas. And so, shelter in place or moving lateral and upwind, it's easy to get away from. And generally speaking, by the time it gets outside, the levels drop down to the point where you can escape. It's only when you're really close to it that the risks are higher, and that's where training comes in to mitigate and prepare. That's what it's all about.

Jill James:

So interesting, Gary. I mean, and it sounds like if we wanted to headline ammonia, it's like, "Ammonia, it's just getting started." It sounds like there's so much more that can happen with it, and so much more that we've all learned. And that you've been on the tip of the spear of that learning experience and teaching all these years. Thank you so much for that. And thank you so much for sharing this really fascinating conversation and your career and career progression. Really appreciate it, really appreciate it. And so, for our listeners, I know on my notes, I'm paying attention to what Gary said about the tripod of hazard risk and threat, and also prevent them all or stop them small. It stuck in my head, and hopefully it stuck in others' as well. But Gary, thank you again so much for coming on the show, really appreciate it.

Gary Smith:

Well, thank you. It's been a pleasure. And all the preparation you went through and to Will for the sound system, made it comfortable and I was ready and it was very, very enjoyable. Thank you.

Jill James:

Yeah, very good. Thank you. Yeah. Good shout out to Will our producer. And thank you all for spending your time listening today. And more importantly, thank you for your contribution toward the common good. Making sure your workers, including your temporary workers, make it home safe every day.

Gary Smith:

Amen.

Jill James:

That's right. And if anyone wants to join the conversation about this episode or any of our previous episodes, you can follow our page and join the Accidental Safety Pro community group on Facebook. And if you aren't already subscribed and want to hear past and future episodes, you can subscribe in iTunes, the Apple Podcast app, or any other podcast player that you'd like. We'd love it if you could leave a rating and review us on iTunes, it really helps us connect the show with more and more safety and health professionals like Gary and myself. Special thanks again to Will Moss, our podcast producer. And until next time, thanks for listening.