Kansas Ethanol hosts largest private ethanol fire training

By Kris Bevill | October 06, 2009
Report posted Oct. 15, 2009, at 12:08 p.m. CST

Kansas Ethanol LLC hosted the largest-ever live ethanol burn during a day-long training session for firefighters Oct. 9. The plant constructed four 27-foot diameter pits for the training. Each pit was filled with 600 gallons of ethanol and ignited for firefighters to practice extinguishing the flames with various types of methods.

Kansas Ethanol safety manager Jennifer Dellar said that a conversation between herself and the plant's general manager, Mike Chisam, about furthering the facility's stellar safety record led to the initial idea to provide a training opportunity for local firefighters. However, the invite list soon grew to include any fire department willing to attend. "We have three firefighters on our staff and two of the three didn't realize that ethanol burned clear," Dellar said. "That got me thinking that there must be a lot of other people who are uneducated about it out there, so we opened it up and it blossomed from there."

Over 300 first responders attended the all-day event. Fire departments from throughout Kansas, as well as Missouri, Ohio, Michigan and Texas, attended the event. Highway patrol members, railroad officials, petroleum representatives and ethanol plant personnel from neighboring production facilities were also in attendance. Lunch for attendees was sponsored by Poet LLC and ICM, Inc. TransCAER organized the arrival of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe railcar and locomotive at the facility for additional first response training opportunities.

In addition to the live ethanol burns, various safety and equipment demonstrations were held. Dellar said the successful event has been recognized as being the first for a private company to give live training opportunities of that magnitude. Feedback from attendees was excellent, according to Dellar, and many have requested that Kansas Ethanol make it an annual event. She said the plant's management will consider the possibility of hosting a similar event in the future and the experience was positive for all involved. "I know Kansas Ethanol will be reaping positive benefits from this for months," she said. "It was a step for us to take safety to the next level and part of that was to include the local community."

Dellar is not sure why an ethanol firefighting training event of this size hasn't been held prior to now but speculated that size and safety concerns could play a factor. "Our plant is set up differently than some of the others," she said, adding that Kansas Ethanol sits on an 80-acre parcel of land compared to 10 acres to 20 acres, which is a common size of land for ethanol plants.

Kansas Ethanol is making a name for itself as being an aggressive facility regarding safety issues. In the first 16 months of its operation, no Occupational Safety and Health Agency accidents or lost-time accidents were reported, which resulted in OSHA's early acceptance of the plant into its Safety and Health Award Program. Dellar said Kansas Ethanol was accepted into the program more quickly than any other ethanol plant.