Safety Assurance

Producers often play key role in providing ethanol safety training
By Kris Bevill | March 10, 2011

In February, a 62-car Norfolk Southern Corp. train hauling ethanol from Chicago to North Carolina derailed near Arcadia, Ohio, sparking a huge blaze and bringing to light again the important role ethanol producers play in providing safety training for first responders. Ethanol’s chemical properties make it a unique challenge for fire fighters and given that most ethanol facilities are located in rural areas serviced by volunteer fire departments, producer participation in training is crucial to safety efforts. Following the Ohio train incident, local emergency management director Garry Valentine credited nearby ethanol plants for previously providing basic information to volunteer firefighters which contributed to a smooth response during the incident. “I won’t say we had hands-on experience, but we did have verbal knowledge,” he said. “I think that helped us out a lot because some of those things come back to our minds real quick when we’re out there.”

Ethanol training for first responders can be as basic or elaborate of a project as a plant is willing to tackle. Many ethanol plants host training sessions to familiarize first responders with the plant layout in case of emergency and provide basic information related to ethanol’s unique properties. Tom Slattery, environmental health and safety manager for Poet LLC, says maintaining a close relationship with local emergency service providers is part of the safety procedure at each Poet plant. Kansas Ethanol LLC, a 55 MMgy plant near Lyons, Kan., went as far as to host a live ethanol burn in 2009, providing first responders with hands-on training in actual ethanol fire situations.

The Renewable Fuels Association has been heavily involved in providing ethanol safety training for several years and coordinates annual training sessions held at various locations throughout the country. In collaboration with various Clean Cities Coalitions, the RFA is hosting a series of Ethanol Safety Seminars this year with upcoming events in Charlotte, N.C., Houston and Beaumont, Texas, Portland, Ore., Stockton, Calif., Indianapolis, Ind., and Ohio. Funded through a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. DOE, the events are focused on providing a comprehensive ethanol emergency response training experience, based on a training guide created by the Ethanol Emergency Response Coalition. “America is nearing a 100 percent saturation point with E10 in our nation’s fuel supply,” says Robert White, market development director for the RFA. “As ethanol continues to flow across the country through railways and trucks into fuel retail stations, it is important for first responders to be well-prepared and trained for ethanol-related emergencies.” 

—Kris Bevill