A report in the media says many fire departments in Iowa and nationwide are apparently lagging behind when it comes to fighting fires that involve ethanol. The leader of the organization that trains Iowa firefighters says the concern over fighting ethanol fires shouldn’t be exaggerated.
Randy Novak,s the bureau chief of the Iowa Fire Service Training Bureau, says first, the state is starting to do a lot more training of firefighters in fighting ethanol fires. Novak says the second issue is that fighting ethanol fires takes a different type of foam that is different than fighting other fires. Novak says most fire departments won’t keep much of that foam on hand, but he says getting the foam to a fire would not be tough.
He says most of the state is protected by 17 HAZMAT teams that the fire department can call, and those teams have the equipment and more training in dealing with the ethanol fires. Novak says the HAZMAT teams should take a more critical role in the process of fighting larger ethanol fires. Novak says the logistics of the state also play a role in any potential ethanol fire.
Novak says the railroads running through Iowa are more rural and a tanker that falls off a rail line in a rural area will pose less of an exposure problem. He says if there’s an accident in a city, there’s more of an exposure problem, but the fire response should be quicker, and the problem would be controlled. Novak says the ethanol plants have taken steps to deal with a potential fire by having foam on site.
Novak says he’s heard that some plants have the foam on hand and he says it’s probably a requirement of the insurance carrier. Novak says if there is a fire at the plant, the operators could use the foam and then be assisted by the firefighters when they arrive. Novak says firefighters know what it takes to protect Iowans if there is a problem.
He says most of the firefighters are trained to the HAZMAT operations level so they know how to identify a problem and can handle it in a defensive mode themselves or with mutual aid. Novak says firefighters will also know if they can’t handle the situation themselves, and can then call in the regional HAZMAT teams to help out. Iowa is the nation’s largest ethanol producer.