Ramis Tagiev: Fire, water and gas pipes

March 2010, by Nikolai Khrenkov
Published in the corporate Gazprom Magazine

Ramis Tagiev – firefighter, sailor, scientist

There are firefighter statuettes to the right, on the shelves in his office – metal, porcelain and ceramic ones. This collection totals some two hundred figurines that he has been bagging around the world. To the left, there are honorary diplomas and letters of award on the wall.

This unusual combination clearly demonstrates the attitude of this man to the cause he has been serving for more than 40 years now. It should be mentioned that Ramis Tagiev, Deputy Director General, Head of the Fire Prevention and New Technologies Directorate at Gazprom Gazobezopasnost is a unique specialist not only in Gazprom, but throughout Russia as well.

A romantic occupation of a firefighter wasn’t his childhood dream. He chose this way accidentally, mostly due to his father, a severe man keen on moral teaching, which Ramis didn’t like. That’s why the distance between our hero’s native Baku and Kharkov became the main factor for him, when after his graduation from school Ramis was offered to enter Kharkov Fire-Fighting Vocational School by one of his relatives. And only after starting his studies he understood what he would dedicate his life to.

After graduating from Vocational School holding a lieutenant’s grade, Ramis Tagiev returned to the capital of Azerbaijan where he was appointed a fire watch commander. It took him only several months to get his first Medal for Bravery in Fire-Fighting for putting out a fire at the command center of a military airfield. In 1979 Ramis graduated from Moscow Higher Engineering Fire-Fighting School of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs and, having returned to Baku once again, a couple of months later he was appointed Deputy Head of the Marine Fire Brigade at Kaspmorneftegazprom. And in 1985 he became head of this unique division unparalleled in the world. The Brigade consisted of fire-fighting vessels with displacement of up to 3 thousand tons and a crew of some 80 people who were in charge of the whole water area of the Caspian Sea. The events of July 6, 1988 in the North Sea showed what a fire could be on an oil platform where equipment, industrial and living spaces are combined within a small area with no possibilities for emergency evacuation.

Stilling of elements

Then, the Piper Alpha platform (daily producing 317 thousand barrels of oil) was destroyed in two hours, 167 people died. Losses amounted to USD 3.4 billion. During the existence of the Marine Fire Brigade in the 1980s and, to a great extent, owing to it, there were no oil or gas workers among those people who died in the fire in the Caspian Sea, though force majeure circumstances were not rare, of course. Ramis Tagiev will remember one of such cases for the rest of his life.

It happened just before the opening of the First Congress of Peoples’ Deputies of the USSR in May 1989, when the whole country glued itself to TV screens waiting for a show few ever see. But the Marine Brigade had other things to do. During the capital overhaul of the deep-water offshore platform, a tractor fell from the second tier, a well depressurized, and five other wells flared right away (offshore wells are literally put end to end). The wells were high-rate, the burning oil gusher was powerful, and six fire-fighting vessels rushed to the accident site.

Sea was Force 7 on that day, that’s why the fire-fighting vessel now shot up over the fixed platform to the height of a 3-storey building, now, on the contrary, went down 7 meters below the deck. A moment had to be seized when the boat landing of the platform leveled with the vessel, so that in a matter of seconds two or three people could land, and then again another go with a constant risk of collision, that could turn into a catastrophe.

Moreover, the situation was constantly demanding non-standard solutions. For example, a necessity occurred to arrange the vessels to apply fixed monitors for well cooling. Only those vessels could supply 20 thousand cubic meters of water per hour, but the sea depth of the field didn’t allow the fire-fighting vessels to come to an anchor there. Therefore, the oceangoing tugs with longer anchor chains were delivered to the site, and the fire-fighting vessels were attached to them by means of steel cables through windlasses, so that they stayed in one place.

Specialists from the USA were invited for giving advice on gusher killing. After having a close look at the situation they agreed to solve it in 30 days, if each of the 20 specialists of their company working on the site had got USD 5 thousand daily. Such money was unaffordable, that’s why the Marine Brigade and the Caspian Well Control Unit worked the situation out. All the operations were finished less than in three weeks, moreover, all the oil was skimmed off the sea surface.

Theory and practice

The committee led by Boris Nikitin, Deputy Minister of the USSR Oil Industry and Leonid Filimonov highly appreciated the work of the Marine Fire-Fighting Brigade, and Ramis Tagiev was bestowed the rank of Colonel.

But then hard times began. The USSR broke up into 15 independent states, and in some of them national elites who took power started pursuing a totally chauvinist policy. In Azerbaijan such issues occurred in the time of the People’s Front rule, and Ramis Tagiev had problems with his nationality. He was called on the carpet by senior management to learn that he couldn’t head the Marine Fire-Fighting Brigade anymore due to his mother’s non-titular nationality and was offered to move to lieutenant’s position. The absurdity of both the accusation and the offer left our hero with no choice: he had to move to Russia where his unique experience and knowledge could be sought for.

But it happened so that the way to Russia for Ramis Tagiev and his family went via... Vietnam. In the Soviet era he used to go on business trips there to organize fire safety of facilities of Soviet-Vietnam joint company Vietsovpetro, which extracted oil offshore. “The Vietnamese had a number of Vikhr fire-fighting vessels, resembling those we had in the Caspian Sea,” Mr. Tagiev remembers, “But they had almost no idea of how to work there. They would go to sea, drop the anchor and fish. But they have to be given credit for being smart and easily taught. That is why we could build a solid basis for the fire safety cause soon.”

From 1993 to 1995 Ramis Tagiev had been in charge of the Vietsovpetro marine fire-fighting service, which he had created himself, and then he was invited to Gazflot, where he became Head of the Industrial and Fire Safety Department. In this position Ramis Tagiev did a lot for restoration of the Gazprom search and rescue fleet, elaboration of security and rescue systems for the personnel of offshore oil and gas production facilities at Shtokman and Prirazlomnoye fields.

In the meantime, our hero first passed his PhD thesis, and later a Doctorate thesis in which he had worked through scientific and methodological aspects of industrial safety in offshore oil fields development. Today, he is the only Russian specialist who is both a theorist and a practitioner in this sphere. Even worldwide, such specialists can be counted on the fingers of one hand, that’s why Ramis Tagiev has been invited many times by US, UK and Korean companies, as well as by Sakhalin Energy for carrying out expert examinations of hydrocarbon fields development projects in terms of their industrial safety.

In 2003 he was appointed Deputy Director General at Gazpromgazobezopasnost where through a uniform technological policy he coordinates the activities of fire safety services at more than 100 companies of Gazprom Group.

Chess in dynamics

Creation and implementation of novelty high efficiency fire-extinguishing installations for gas compressor units protection that surpassed the characteristics of older systems in terms of operation speed and efficiency by tens of times, carried out under Mr. Tagiev’s supervision, was awarded Gazprom 2006 Science and Technology Prize, as well as National Security Award ZUBR. Not too long ago this list was appended by Gazprom 2009 Prize for the introduction of an automated fire-prevention system for a gas treatment unit supplied with the use of an automated deluge system and special aqueous film forming foam.

The family hobby of Ramis Tagiev and his wife is billiards. “It’s an interesting game, a kind of chess in dynamics,” he says, “And it pulls the family together, too.”

Training and participation in tournaments takes up all of his free time. Last year, Gazprom held its first billiards tournament for the Prize of Alexey Miller, Chairman of the Gazprom Management Committee. As part of the event, a separate VIP tournament was held among heads of Gazprom Group companies competing at a green-cloth table. Ramis Tagiev won the first prize. “Frankly speaking, I didn’t expect to win,” he said, “Many of department heads and directors in Gazprom Group are cool players. But still, it’s always pleasant to be the first in your occupation.”