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Firefighters train for ethanol explosion

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 October 2013 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

RIDGEWAY – The flames shot high in the air, and the teams of firefighters drew closer, spraying water and foam on a fuel tanker.

For more than an hour on Thursday evening, firefighters doused a fire. And then it was reignited and they put it out again. And again and again.

About 30 to 40 firefighters, mostly from Barre, Shelby and Ridgeway, trained tonight with a live fire training trailer owned by the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control. The state has been taking the mobile tanker to counties throughout the state, working with fire companies to prepare for an ethanol tank on fire.

There are two ethanol plants in the state – in Medina and Fulton. However trucks and trains are hauling 8,000-gallon tanks all over the state.

“Ethanol is heavily transported in New York State by truck and by rail,” said Dan Baker, a state Haz-Mat instructor.

Orleans County has already had an ethanol explosion. A fuel tanker truck hauling 8,000 gallons of ethanol veered off Route 31A near Mathes Road on June 14, 2011 and crashed into the woods, killing the driving and resulting in several explosions. A team trained in hazardous materials from Kodak helped put out that fire.

Ethanol poses additional challenges for firefighters because ethanol contains alcohol. It requires a foam mix to extinguish and get under control, Baker said.

Firefighters tonight worked in teams of five from three different directions to approach the tanker on fire during tonight’s training exercises. Two teams sprayed water and foam at the fire so another team could approach the tank to turn off the valve letting out the fuel.

“You need to shut off the source,” Baker said.

Firefighters practiced their responses to other scenarios with the tank, including one where the valve was broken. In that case, firefighters sprayed the tank and fuel with the foam mix.

The firefighters moved around different team members during the training, so firefighters from different companies would get experience with their own department members and also in a mutual aid scenario.

Baker said the training tanker is in demand around the state as firefighters want to prepare for an accident with a truck or train hauling ethanol.

“We have a big waiting list,” Baker said about the training.