Ethanol burn helping train firefighters - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Ethanol burn helping train firefighters

CEDAR RAPIDS (KWWL)-- Thousands of gallons of ethanol are transported each day across Iowa highways and railroads.  And there's always a chance that an accident could happen, causing an ethanol spill.  So Linn County first responders want to be prepared for that worst-case scenario.

Tuesday, they worked with Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railways to conduct a full-scale exercise with an ethanol spill and fire.  It's important to practice response to such a disaster because ethanol presents some unique challenges.

A train car has derailed, spilling out its load of ethanol.  The crash ignites a fire in several locations.  That's how the drill was set up.  And while the odds are that fire crews likely won't have to respond to that kind of incident often, practice is still important.

"With the Cedar Rapids area being a producer of ethanol, it's traveling through the community.  So this is a way for us to really train on it and gain a better understanding of how to deal with an incident if it unfortunately were ever to occur," said Greg Smith, battalion chief with the Cedar Rapids Fire Department.

Firefighters do face a couple of unique challenges with an ethanol fire.  For one, it usually burns clear.  So first responders using thermal imaging cameras to find the flames.  Ethanol can also burn at a temperature of about 1200 degrees.  That's nearly twice as hot as most other fires.  And an ethanol fire cannot be put out with just water.

"They're going to be applying foam to it to see how well it actually suppresses.  We're actually going to try out a couple.  We've got some expired foam we're training with, but we also have a new foam product that we want to analyze," Smith said.

Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Rail hopes this kind of scenario never plays out for real.  After all, CRANDIC says more than 99 percent of the time, trains do safely transfer their goods.  But training exercises, like the one Tuesday, allow them to ensure current safety measures are adequate to keep preventing accidents.  And if the worst does happen, drills can help identify what can be done differently in the future.

"We have safety briefings and processes and constant meetings to remind ourselves to be safe and watch out for each other.  So we've made sure we did everything safely here today, and we can take away things to make sure we carry that forward," said Joe McGovern, CRANDIC Railways chief operating officer.

After the training exercise was complete, first responders also got together to talk about what worked and what didn't in putting out the ethanol fires.  That way, they'll know how best to respond in the event of an actual ethanol disaster.

KWWL Reporter:  Kera Mashek

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