Monday, October 27, 2008

Many communities unprepared for ethanol fires

The growth of ethanol means that it is being transported through an increasing number of communities, many of which are unprepared to fight ethanol-related fires. Is yours one of them?

"By and large, fire departments have not been able to get the resources in place to address this particular hazard, which really is spreading," said Alexandria, Va., Fire Chief Adam Thiel. Fighting fires from fuels blended with alcohol require a special foam treatment that is not typically found on fire trucks.

But while gasoline in most of the country is now blended with alcohol and transported on rail lines through much of the country, many areas are not even aware that ethanol fires require different equipment. "I don't think they really understand the whole issue of the blended fuels and how they have to be ready to deal with it," said Timothy Butters, chairman of the International Association of Fire Chiefs' Hazardous Materials Committee and an assistant fire chief in Fairfax, Va.

"A 2006 derailment of 23 Norfolk Southern Co. tank cars in New Brighton, Pa., sparked a fire that burned for 48 hours and forced the evacuation of seven blocks, according to federal safety officials," writes Michael Laris of The Washington Post. "Last year, a tanker traveling from Baltimore to a processing facility in Virginia flipped in Maryland and spilled 6,800 gallons of flaming ethanol, killing the truck's driver and torching a half-dozen cars. The Baltimore City Fire Department did not have the right foam and struggled to put out the fire, which burned for hours." (Read more)

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