First responders receive live ethanol burn training

By Kris Bevill | November 11, 2009
More than 300 first responders attended a daylong ethanol fire training session hosted by Kansas Ethanol LLC on Oct. 9. The plant constructed four 27-foot diameter pits for the event which were each filled with 600 gallons of ethanol and ignited for firefighters to practice extinguishing with various types of methods. It was the largest-ever live ethanol burn to be hosted by a private facility.

Kansas Ethanol safety manager Jennifer Dellar said that a conversation between the plant's general manager, Mike Chisam, and her about furthering the facility's stellar safety record led to the initial idea to provide a training opportunity for local firefighters. The invitation 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 out there who are uneducated about [ethanol], so we opened it up and it blossomed from there."

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 also attended. TransCAER arranged for the use of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe railcar and locomotive at the facility for additional first response training opportunities. Poet LLC and ICM Inc. sponsored lunch for attendees.

Chisam said organizing the event required a great deal of effort by Kansas Ethanol staff, but the long-term impacts will be worth it. "Our local firefighters now have firsthand knowledge of extinguishing an ethanol fire, the equipment that is necessary to do so, and the difficulties that may be encountered," he said. "On a larger scale, firefighters from across the country have now witnessed an ethanol fire and seen various products demonstrated that can be utilized for extinguishment. In addition, we believe that only positive things can come from forging a close, positive relationship with the law enforcement and firefighting agencies that service and protect our communities."

Dellar said safety concerns and space limitations could be contributing factors which have prevented other ethanol facilities from holding similar-sized events. "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.

Feedback from attendees was excellent, according to Dellar, and many have requested the training be made an annual event. She said the plant will consider the possibility of hosting a similar event in the future. "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."

Kansas Ethanol had a reputation for having a high level of safety compliance prior to the fire training event. In its first 16 months of 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.