October 6, 2013

Firefighters tackle a different kind of fire

Flames light up sky during a training exercise in Essex County

By ALVIN REINER Press-Republican

---- — WILLSBORO — From dusk to dark the skies were lit as Essex County firefighters quelled one blaze after another during their Emergency Response to Ethanol Incidents training.

The intense heat could be felt 100 feet away, so one could only imagine what it is like to advance upon a conflagration protected only by a spray of water and insulated fire gear. An unanticipated sight, according to several participants, was the frost that developed due to propane issuing forth at a high rate. It was similar to when tanks are filled and the operator has to wear gloves to prevent injury.

Each session lasted until the fires were subdued and the valve at the tank was turned off. Then there was a short interval as the firefighters exchanged places and the scene was ignited with a whoosh and a roar once again. 

The program was designed to prepare firefighters for dealing with flammable liquids, as in most cases they have encountered only structure fires and blazes in fields and the woods. 

“The amount of ethanol transported in New York state has increased dramatically in the past five years, and there are at least five ethanol trains going through this area weekly and others that carry these types of liquids,” said Daniel J. Baker, fire protection specialist for the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control Hazardous Materials Bureau. Baker, along with Ed Fletcher, developed the course.

The training, Baker said, is “a unique opportunity that is fairly stressful, and not without some hazards. I cannot stress this enough; this is like a real fire.” 

The activities are monitored at a control panel, where the fuel is ignited and the system can be immediately shut down. About 1,500 gallons of propane is used for the exercises.

Basically, the field exercise consists of an attack with water to cool the flames and provide protection for the firefighters as the flames range from 500 to 600 degrees. A foam line is used to combat the fire and to allow a firefighter to shut off the valve. Unlike the strategy for battling structure fires, firefighters have to remain standing as the liquid and the heat is on the ground, and there isn’t as much concern over smoke.

“It wasn’t as hot as I thought it would be,” said Ian Hall, 24, who has been with the Keene Valley Fire Department for eight years. “I really didn’t know what to expect. I now have the ability to keep myself and other firefighters safe in case something like this happens.”

“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. This, as well as other firefighting, definitely takes a lot of teamwork.”

While Tromblee was in action, his son Brandon watched from a safe distance. 

“It’s cool,” the younger Tromblee said. “I am not concerned. I know my dad will be safe. I have been to structure fires with him, but I have to sit in the pick-up truck.”

Ron Jackson has been with the Essex Volunteer Fire Department for almost a half century, but this was a first for him. 

“We haven’t done live fire training in almost 20 years,” Jackson said. “We used to do it about once a year when someone had an old dwelling that needed to be taken down. But they (the state) don’t allow that anymore. I have never done anything like this. It did everything it was supposed to do. That was the beauty of this training.”

“This was one of the best training sessions we have ever had,” said Sandy Denton, assistant chief of the Lewis Volunteer Fire Department. 

A veteran firefighter of 24 years, she related her experience. 

“They brought us right into the flames. It was very educational. It made you more alert and informed us about the foam differential. We have never had a chance to do something like this in the North Country in Lewis. It was scary at first, and you see all of that flame around you, and you’re walking into it with a wall of water. It was extreme.” 

In evaluating the course, Donald Jaquish, director/fire coordinator of Essex County Emergency Services, said: “I would say the training placed firefighters in real-world conditions with (Office of Fire Prevention and Control) staff watching carefully to insure their safety. The Office of Fire Prevention and Control instructors were very professional, and the Essex County Fire Coordinator’s Office was very pleased with the exercise results both as a firefighting exercise as well as training for our Hazardous Materials team. 

“The comments from the participants was very positive, and we hope to bring this school back to Essex County soon so others who missed this one may also be trained.”

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TO LEARN MORE For more information contact the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control at 474-6746, or visit