Nomex® Fiber Helps Refinery Worker Survive Flash Fire

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When Marvin Staben, a Colorado Refining Company worker, dressed for work on a sub-zero winter morning, he had no idea that his coveralls and coat made with DuPont™ Nomex® would help save his life.

Later that morning, as Staben walked around the end of a 5,000-gallon horizontal drum, he saw a flash out of the corner of his eye. In that instant, a flammable vapor cloud surrounding him found an unknown ignition source, engulfing Staben in flames.

“I just closed my eyes and started running,” he recalls. “I stopped after about five steps and opened my eyes, and all I could see was flames all around me.“ Staben closed his eyes again and kept running.

“I thought, ‘How much farther do I have to go?’ I fell off a 15-inch ledge and rolled on the ground until I felt cool air.”

Another employee saw Staben trying to escape the fire, and urged him to keep rolling. After three more rolls, when Staben had traveled 35 feet from the point of ignition, the co-worker pulled Staben out of the fire.

Though Staben could have been fatally burned, his only injuries were first- and second-degree burns to his face and neck. He credits his protective clothing made with Nomex® flame-resistant (FR) fiber for saving his life. Nomex® doesn’t burn, melt or drip. It provides a protective barrier between the fire and the wearer. These characteristics are part of the chemical structure of the fiber itself, not topically applied. The flame protection Nomex® offers can‘t be washed out or worn away.

Nomex® is worn by emergency responders, electrical utility workers, race car drivers, military personnel and refinery workers. Colorado Refining has had a mandatory Nomex® clothing policy for all employees since 1979.

“We provide all of our employees with three pairs of coveralls, a jacket, a quilted jacket liner and a hard-hat liner, all made of Nomex®,” says Mike Mathews, safety manager for Colorado Refining. “We firmly believe that if our Nomex® program prevents one serious injury, as it did in Marvin Staben’s case, it has more than paid for itself.”

At the time of his accident, Staben was wearing all of his company-issued clothing made with Nomex® over thermal long johns, sweat pants, a flannel shirt and a hooded polyester sweatshirt, with the hood pulled up over his hard hat.

“I could tell how hot the fire was because all my clothes from the waist down, under my coveralls, were scorched,” Staben says. “I had a pair of rubber gloves in my back pocket that completely melted. And the hood of my sweatshirt just disintegrated. It was gone.”

“I feel I was very fortunate. My whole life could have changed in a few seconds,” Staben continues. “I know that if I hadn’t been wearing Nomex®, I probably wouldn’t be here today.”