Emergency personnel train to fight Ethanol fires with live fires

Essex County Fire fighters combat a simulated Ethonal Spill at training exercise in Willsboro on May 16.

Essex County Fire fighters combat a simulated Ethonal Spill at training exercise in Willsboro on May 16. Photo by Katherine Clark.

— Members of Essex County Volunteer fire departments came together to learn about combating liquid fires with a certification class that included putting out live propane fires at the parking lot outside the Commonwealth Home Fashions on May 16.

“We are having these classes in response to the increase in fuel based ethanol transportation,” said New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control Dan Baker. “Crude oil comes through our area about once a day and ethanol is transported at least five days a week, the risk for a liquid fire has gone up dramatically and we’re making an effort to get where we need to be to protect people.”

The group of about 22 members from various departments in the county rotated positions through about 15 burns, performing a different part each time. Some members were able to be certified and about 28 members audited the class.

The live burn exercise was carried out using a Kidde Firetrainer built tractor trailer prop.

“It’s a $250,000 prop paid for by NYSERTA,” said Baker. “We were able to pay for the rest by a grant or the state.”

The prop used propane as opposed to ethanol because the two elements have similar characteristics and the propane provides a fire emergency personnel can control.

When dealing with an ethanol fire or a chemical spill, responders are taught to use techniques like damming, diking, diverting, absorbing and vapor suppression using a Class B foam. Responders are told to avoid contact with the material. One of the practices carried out through the live exercise was to extinguish and suppress flames in three locations at the scene.

“I want you to imagine the tanker has sprung a leak and a fire has started,” said Baker to trainees. “I want you to really think about what method you would use to put that fire out. You’ve got to put that leak out or stop that leak or the ground fire can’t go out.”

During the exercise, Baker stressed to the emergency responders that though this was a simulated emergency, there was a real fire with real danger if not extinguished properly.

Baker does exercises around New York State to train departments for ethanol and other gas burns and hopes with training departments who have never encountered this type of fire will be better prepared.

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