Fighting the Good Fight

Safety training is paramount at Pine Bend Refinery, a Flint Hills Resources facility in Rosemount, Minnesota. Meet the fire chief who makes it happen.

April 19, 2016

When combustible products are part of your business, having a contingency plan for the unexpected simply isn’t enough. That’s why, in the spirit of being a responsible operator, Flint Hills Resources maintains a fully functioning, two-house fire department on location at its Pine Bend Refinery in Rosemount, Minnesota. Because keeping employees and the surrounding community safe has always been the facility’s top priority.

Like any other fire department, this one takes a lot of dedicated men and women to keep running – specifically, 132 crew members, including 87 volunteers. It has everything you’d expect, from fire trucks to portable fire ladders and hydrants. There’s even an aquatic spill-response unit and a community air monitoring vehicle.

But as good as those 132 individuals are at their jobs, a department of Pine Bend’s size can’t run itself. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to – for the last 26 years, it’s had Pete Herpst to rely on.  

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Since 1990, Pete Herpst has led hundreds of Pine Bend Refinery firefighters and volunteers in their mission to keep the refinery and the surrounding community safe.

A military veteran, handyman and longtime volunteer firefighter, Pete joined the Pine Bend team in 1990. Back then, the department did not exist as it does now. In fact, it was Pete who helped train the very first official fire crew, taking over when the brigade was officially put into service the next year. And he’s been leading the team ever since.

Fighting the good fight

This photo of Pete’s first fire crew serves as a reminder of just how much the department has grown over the years.

For Pete, the transition from municipal volunteer firefighter to the private sector was an interesting one. Coming into an industrial environment was a stark contrast to his experience responding to the unknown. At Pine Bend, he was instead able to focus on preventing potential fires and training for possible scenarios.

“It’s more proactive,” Pete says. “You’re trying to prevent things from happening versus reactively responding like you would on the municipal side. Hopefully we never have any events here, but we have the equipment and trained people to respond to the situation safely.”

Pete’s department sits on the Rosemount Fire Department’s turf. For that reason, and given Rosemount’s size of approximately 22,000 residents, being prepared for everything is especially important to Pete and his team. Not just because it’s the responsible thing to do, but because it’s the right thing to do for the community Pine Bend calls home.

“If we weren’t here, the Rosemount Fire Department would be responsible for anything that’s happening on this site just as they would be for any other business or industry in their jurisdiction,” says Pete. “They’ve got so many other things that they have to focus on and be prepared for.”

Today, the Pine Bend Refinery Fire Department rivals many city fire departments. Pete is confident in his crew’s ability to handle almost any situation they might encounter at the refinery. But that confidence comes with the amount of on-site training they do to stay a step ahead of any precarious scenarios the department might encounter.

In fact, training is so much a part of what they do, Pete’s department regularly invites fire stations from around the area to participate in free fire-training sessions. They have such a strong, trusting relationship with surrounding communities that nearby Minneapolis and St. Paul regularly send their new recruit classes to Pete and his team for live-fire training.

  • Morning, noon or night, the Pine Bend Refinery Fire Department is always on call and ready to respond at a moment’s notice.

  • Here, one of Pete’s crew mans the wheel of a fire engine en route to the department’s training grounds.

  • Pete and members of his team suit up for fire safety training – something the department does regularly.

  • It takes a lot of equipment – about 19 miles of fire hose – and manpower to keep the Pine Bend Refinery Fire Department running.

  • Pete oversees his team as they run through a live-fire drill on a frigid early-spring Minnesota morning.

  • Tagged with the names of the men and women who make it all possible, these lockers represent the roughly 132 people it takes to cover all the department’s shifts.

  • At left, members of Pete’s department practice extinguishing a simulated facility fire. At right, Pete provides direction to his team.

“We provide the trainers and safety officers,” Pete says. “And we’ll typically have eight to 10 people down at our fire-training grounds leading training. It’s a real safe operation. We teach them how to approach fires as a team, work together systematically and control the fire.”

Training future generations of firefighters and protecting his community and his crew has become such an integral part of Pete’s life, it’s going to be hard to leave it all behind when he eventually retires later this year. He knows it, so he’s delaying it.

“I’m pushing it out,” he says with a chuckle. “It might be the end of the year now. I like what I’m doing – that’s my problem.”

There’s a big part of Pete that wants to spend more time either at his cabin, in his woodshop or attending his 15-year-old son’s sporting events. He talks of traveling more and seeing the country with his boy, or raising honeybees (a newer hobby of his). Yet there’s an equally large part of him that refuses to hang up the hose and helmet for good.

“There are more things I want to get done here,” says Pete. “And whoever replaces me, I want to make sure they’re trained as well. So I’m in the process of mentoring someone now. And if it works out, I’d like to contract back and work part time for the company.”

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Looking back on the last three decades at Pine Bend, Pete reflects on the work he’s done and looks forward to whatever the future – and retirement – have in store for him.

Slowing down could prove difficult for a guy who’s been on call for the better part of four decades. There are more awards banquets he’d like to host, fresh recruits he’d like to have a hand in training, and men and women who could benefit from the experience and guidance he brings to the Pine Bend Refinery Fire Department.    

But whatever the future may hold – for Pete or for Pine Bend – there’s no denying that the facility and the community have certainly been made that much safer through his years of service.

~Pete Herpst retired in 2017.

At Flint Hills Resources, a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries, Inc., employees like Pete Herpst help strengthen our position as a refining, chemical and biofuels and ingredients company committed to operating responsibly. To learn more about Koch and our companies, visit kochind.com.

At Flint Hills Resources, a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries, Inc., employees like Pete Herpst help strengthen our position as a refining, chemical and biofuels and ingredients company committed to operating responsibly. To learn more about Koch and our companies, visit kochind.com.