Miami Int'l Ups Safety of Fuel Farm After Devastating Fire

Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 

Miami International Airport (MIA) reached a significant and cathartic milestone in recovering from a fire that destroyed its North Pump Pad when the airport’s permanent replacement farm began pumping fuel in September. Although the root cause of the fire in still under investigation, MIA has moved on at a swift, decisive pace.  

Just 16 hours after the site of the fire was deemed safe, a stop-gap fueling system was in place. A temporary, but fully automatic system, capable of delivering 5,000 gallons of fuel per minute (gpm), was operating within seven days and seven hours.


Replacement Fuel Farm

Miami Int’l Airport

Cost: $23 million

Reserve maintenance funds

Fuel Farm Management:
Allied Aviation Services

Mechanical Contractors:
Gonzalez & Sons Equipment; Ty Lin Int’l HJ Ross

Civil/Environmental Engineering:
Cherokee Enterprises

Dynalectric Florida; Accurate Electric

Fire Protection:
National Fire Protection

Fire Alarm Monitoring:

Cathodic Protection:
Universal Technical Resource Services

Building Construction:
Pra Construction Group

Pump Automation: Hansa Consult of North America

Fire Protection Engineering:
Burns & McDonnell

Security: PM Security Service

CCTV & Motion Detectors:

Pumps: Goulds Pumps

Filter Vessels: Velcon Filters

Components: Cla-Val

Switch Gear: Eaton Corp.

Generators: Caterpillar

Of Note: After fire destroyed MIA’s North Pump Pad, it constructed a temporary system in seven days; new North & South Pump Pads were completed in 18 months

Carlos Jose, MIA’s assistant director of Facilities Management and Maintenance, vividly recalls the chaotic scene on March 23, 2011, when fire destroyed all 14 pumps and filter vessels at the airport’s North Pump Pad: “The fire grew because there was a fuel leak which started to overflow the containment area, traveling down the street in front of the pump pad and into a dyke area, a secondary secured area to contain spillage. Because the pumps were located next to each other, the fire spread to all 14 pumps. A valve did not close properly, allowing the fuel to flow out of the pump and destroy all the pumps and filter vessels. It took 2½ hours to get the fire under control.”

The South Pump Pad, which included three fuel pumps for tanker trucks only, was not connected to the main hydrant system and thus not affected by the fire. Nevertheless, MIA’s fueling capacity was cut to 50% — a serious problem for an airport that typically delivers 1.6 to 2 million gallons of fuel per day.

Within 24 hours, the airport mobilized crews onsite to begin construction of a temporary pumping system.

“The temporary system was being engineered as the work took place,” recalls Pedro Hernandez, engineering division director of MIA’s Facilities Development and Management. “We found parts and motors locally; we didn’t have the time to place orders and wait,” he recalls. “Within 16 hours, we had a temporary system able to deliver some fuel to the field, and in seven days and seven hours we had up and running a fully automatic temporary fuel delivery system capable of delivering 5,000 gallons per minute.”

Fire trucks were stationed onsite so the system could operate before its fire protection system was in place, adds Hernandez.

Seven days later — just two weeks after the fire — the filtration system was installed and MIA’s fuel delivery was internationally and domestically compliant at a 95% level.

Starting Over

After temporary pumps were in place, the primary work of building a new North Pump Pad began. With the devastating fire fresh in their memories, airport officials reevaluated the safety measures in place at the South Pump Pad and decided to replace the entire system with a duplicate of the new North Pump Pad.

Mindful that the airport was operating under a temporary system, officials were intent on getting the North Pad up and running to meet demand and provide a backup provision before crews began work on the South Pad. Upon its completion, the airport again had 100% redundancy.

Allied Aviation, which manages MIA’s fueling services, was involved in each twist and turn of the project. “The existing South Pad was operational,” recalls Allied General Manager Thomas Doherty. “It fed the load rack and could provide fuel to the hydrant system if necessary. But the amounts were minimal. At our highest peaks and demands, we pump close to 6,000 gpm. The temporary pad was capable of 6,000 gpm, but if something went down for repair or maintenance, we would have to use the South Pad to make up the difference.”

Construction on the North Pump Pad began in May 2011. One of the first things officials considered in designing the new pad was the proximity of its pumps, motors and filters.

Under the old system, 14 100-horsepower motors running 14 750-gpm pumps dispensing fuel through 14 1,200-gpm filter vessels were placed on a 191-foot-by-32-foot containment pad. The motor control switch gear, a single 2,000-amp electrical breaker and the generator breaker were placed next to the fuel containment area.

The facility had one standby generator capable of operating three motors and pumps. The system did not have automated leak detection, fire suppression or fire detection. Although the previous system was fully compliant with safety regulations, the proximity of its equipment and exposure to the elements left the pump pad vulnerable to damage during a fire.

On the new pad, five 200-horesepower motors and five 1,200-gpm pumps are housed in three cinderblock buildings with two-hour fire ratings. Two buildings contain two pumps each, and a third building contains one pump with room for another. A cinderblock wall, also with a two-hour fire rating, separates the pumps within each building. The filter vessels are housed in two buildings, and the motor control system is housed in a separate building.

The floor in each pump and filter house floor is pitched toward a collection sump equipped with leak detection probes that sound an alarm for 5 gallons and shut down the equipment at 20 gallons. Each enclosure has fire detection and a fire suppression system that are monitored remotely from the operational control room.

In the dyke areas, a protective membrane was installed under all grassy soil areas, as required by environmental regulations. New LED lighting was added in the dyke areas, and each location is equipped with lightning protection and fire lane access for emergency response equipment. All electrical and fire conduits are below ground; no flanges are exposed outside of the building enclosures. All jet fuel remains underground until it enters the enclosure.

Safety First

After dispensing fuel under a temporary certificate of occupancy at the North and South Stations, MIA expects to be upgraded to a standard certificate of occupancy in November.

The new farm, which includes an integrated pumping system with five pumps on each pad, is one of the most advanced systems in the nation, emphasize Jose and Hernandez.

“The integrated fire alarm and protection system monitors the entire fuel farm, so that any disruption at one end is backed up by the system at the other end,” Hernandez elaborates. “The fire suppression system is capable of delivering 7,000 gallons of foam and water per minute.”

After working 12-hour days, six days a week, for about 18 months, Doherty is impressed with MIA’s new fuel farm. “What we did here could be viewed by some as a little over-the-top,” he acknowledges. But the areas near the facility and just outside the airport’s fence — waterways, apartment complexes and public roads — justified the approach, he adds. “We needed to make sure that not only was the fuel facility going to be fully functional and compliant today and 25 years from now, but we had to ensure the safety of the communities surrounding the fuel facility.”

Doherty also reflects on the speed with which MIA responded: “It was very important for us to recover quickly. The fire was devastating and biblical … not many airports could bounce back as quickly as we did here at Miami.”

Fuel Operations

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