October 6, 2013

Firefighters tackle a different kind of fire

Flames light up sky during a training exercise in Essex County

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.

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