Ethanol plant training session to draw 11 Minn. fire departments
By Carolyn Lange
The West Central Tribune
ATWATER, Minn. — Passers-by shouldn't be surprised if it looks like there's a major disaster taking place at Bushmills Ethanol on Saturday morning.
Fire trucks and nearly 70 volunteer firefighters from all 11 of Kandiyohi County's fire departments will be at the Atwater ethanol plant for a three-hour training session.
They'll be preparing for a disaster, but their training could actually help divert one.
The fall mutual aid training session is focusing on the special challenges involved with fighting a fire that involves ethanol, said Atwater Fire Chief Gerald Schwart. Participants will be educated about the properties of ethanol, which differ from fighting petroleum-based fires.
"We want to know what we're getting into," said Schwartz.
Ethanol and water mix but the combustible vapors can still escape, said Mike Roe, fire training program manager at Ridgewater College, who helped organize the training.
Those vapors can create an invisible fire, said Schwartz. A thermal imaging camera can help detect the hot-spots.
The standard foam that's used to fight petroleum fires won't work for ethanol fires, said Roe.
Crews may have the opportunity to use the special foam that's used for smothering ethanol fires.
The major objectives of the day, however, are to figure out how to transport enough water to fight a large-scale fire at the facility.
With all the county's tankers and pumpers there's the capability of moving 4,000 gallons of water a minute, said Roe.
The challenge will be how to get that much water to the trucks.
It will involve orchestrating a complicated dance of vehicles and available water sources.
Bushmills has a 100,000-gallon tank on site and there's also wells and a rainwater storage pond there. Fire trucks can get water from lakes or the city of Atwater about 1 1/2 miles away. But that all takes time, said Roe.
And then there's the issue of different sized hoses and couplings from different fire departments that could complicate the task of hooking hoses together to reach long distances on Bushmill's property. On Saturday, crews will be able to take an inventory and determine if adapters will be needed, said Schwartz. "We want to see how much water we can move."
The department chiefs are also expected to try out their new 800-MHz radios to see if they can communicate with each other.
The Atwater Fire Department has toured Bushmills several times and is well-equipped to respond to emergencies there, said Roe. "But the rest of the departments — they drive by it."
If a large-scale fire occurs, it'll take more than just one department to put it out and those departments need to be trained. "It's not just a one-department problem," said Roe.
The session will not only help the fire departments respond to an emergency at Bushmills, but will provide transferable skill to other large-scale mutual-aid situations, said Roe.
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