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N.Y., firefighters train to handle flammable liquid fires

Posted on by SST

In Essex County, N.Y., firefighters spend most of their career handling structure fires and blazes in fields and the woods. Such hazards call for fire suppression techniques that differ from other blazes, including those that result from flammable liquids. During a recent training session in Willsboro, N.Y., however, firefighters learned to face the intense heat of burning ethanol, Press Republican reported. The event aimed to diversify firefighters experience and prepare them for potential incidents in the future.

The training involved a series of propane fires monitored from a control panel. Firefighters tackled flames ranging from 500 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Streams of water were used to cool flames and protect firefighters while a line of fire extinguisher foam tackled the blaze. Each exercise ended when firefighters shut off the fuel valve. About 1,500 gallons of propane were used to replicate an ethanol blaze.

"I cannot stress this enough," said Daniel Baker, one of the program organizers. "This is like a real fire."

For many, the experience was the first of its kind. According to Ron Jackson of the Essex Fire Department, his crew had not practiced live fire training in almost 20 years. "We used to do it about once a year when someone had an old dwelling that needed to be taken down," explained Jackson. "But they [the state] don't allow that anymore."

Safety measures were put in place to deal with potential hazards. The control panel from which fuel was administered could shut off the blaze immediately in case of malfunction or injury.

During the exercise, firefighters utilized new tactics. Unlike structure fires, where it is recommended to stay close to the ground, firefighters countered the heat by standing. Temperatures were cooler above the ground and smoke was less of a concern.

"You could really feel the radiant heat," said Pat Tromblee, the Mineville assistant fire chief. "It's amazing what you can do with a little water."

Flammable liquid safety
Officials hoped that the training would prepare firefighters to deal with a growing hazard.

"The amount of ethanol transported in New York state has increased dramatically in the past five years," said Baker. "There are at least five ethanol trains going through this area weekly and others that carry these types of liquids."

Ethanol is a flammable liquid under class IB, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards. This means it has a flash point below 73 degrees Fahrenheit. At around room temperature, ethanol produces enough vapor to ignite in the air. Because of this, it requires special care when transported or handled in the workplace. Containers must be sealed and storage areas must be well ventilated.

As for Essex County firefighters, the program brought them valuable training to deal with whatever flammable liquid incidents might arise in the future.

"I really didn't know what to expect," said Ian Hall of the Keene Valley Fire Department. "I now have the ability to keep myself and other firefighters safe in case something like this happens."

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