Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rules are rules, bub: No clearance, no putting out the fire next to the liquid hydrogen tank.

From the March 8 LA Times Magazine, some tales of how (not) to run a top secret and volatile-chemical-abundant airplane factory in the middle of Burbank--and how private security personnel have always had great judgment:

"The engineer in charge built what he called his 'own hydrogen-liquefaction plant.' At first, tests began in Dixie cups, but before long the place was producing more liquid hydrogen than anywhere in America. 'We wore grounded shoes and couldn’t carry keys or any metallic objects that might spark,' he recalls. 'We installed a nonexplosive electrical system and used only nonsparking tools.'

Still, storing liquid hydrogen presents a very clear danger. And in the spring of 1959, a stove only 700 feet away from the tank caught fire. Extinguishers were ineffective. When local firefighters showed up, they didn’t have top-secret security clearances, so according to the engineer, the facility’s guards wouldn’t let them on site."

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