Area firefighters get natural gas training




Firefighting goes well beyond the use of fire hoses in extinguishing fires, especially when dealing with certain kinds of gases, chemicals, liquids and other types of elements.

On Wednesday, Garden City and Holcomb firefighters were trained specifically for natural gas fires by Black Hills Energy.

Arland Thompson, safety coordinator for Black Hills Energy, trained firefighters on five different scenarios involving natural gas at Garden City Community College's fire training center, in which they utilized Purple-K, a dry chemical extinguisher to put out fires.

One of the training scenarios involving natural gas was that of an underground pit fire, a simulation in which natural gas workers might be digging around a house or in the middle of the street.

"It proves two things. It gives them (natural gas workers) a comfortability with how our members can respond to help them, and at the same time, it gives our guys the chance to work with live fire," GCFD Battalion Chief Rick Collins said.

In another scenario, a propped up car hood was used to show firefighters how to extinguish an object that becomes a heat source.

"It's just to demonstrate that if that hood gets hot enough, it might reignite the gas. That's why the guys back up instead of turning around — you never want to turn your back. They get that hood hot enough that it should reignite," Battalion Chief Ken Seirer said.

Again, firefighters used Purple-K to extinguish that fire, but because the hood became a heat source, the fire immediately reignited each time.

Seirer said that in any scenario involving natural gas, the best approach is to let the gas burn until the valve can be shut off.

"If it's not burning, the gas is floating around looking for an ignition source, and what they would do, the gas company would find the valve, shut the valve off and the fire would go out," he said.

Another simulation involved a gas fire at a residence, and in another exercise, firefighters used hose streams and chemical extinguishers to put out ignited natural gas fed from a pipe underneath an old automobile to simulate the result of a car striking a gas meter. They also practiced techniques to safely contain and extinguish natural gas fires from pipeline punctures.

"Safety is a top priority for Black Hills Energy, and we work shoulder to shoulder with fire and rescue teams should the need arise," said Mark McGaughey, southwest Kansas Black Hills Energy operations manager. "Natural gas is a safe, reliable energy source and natural gas fires are rare, so this training from Black Hills Energy provides firefighters with hands-on experience and instruction. We hope they'll never need it, but it will prove invaluable if they do."

In addition to natural gas, other gases, chemicals, liquids and flammable elements such as the anhydrous ammonia that firefighters were concerned about after the explosion at the fertilizer plant last week in West, Texas, require firefighters to carry Emergency Response Guidebooks (ERG) to every scene involving hazardous material.

"We go through a lot of training for hazardous material, and we train our personnel to the level that we can, and when you arrive on scene, everything has a placard on it, it has a number on it and then you refer back to your guidebooks to give you information," Shelton said. "There's no way, with all the chemicals that you could know everything about every chemical, so we have to rely on this. And not only do we, but law enforcement and emergency medical — we all carry this book, so if we come up on any type of chemical, we can get pertinent information real quick."

Anhydrous ammonia, which many farmers use as fertilizer, is one part nitrogen and three parts hydrogen, making it one of the most potentially dangerous chemicals used in agriculture.

"It's relatively safe, as far as the anhydrous itself, as far as the fire side of it, but if the container comes in direct contact with flames, there can be a problem. There can be an explosion because of the container. Anhydrous ammonia is more of a health risk because it seeks moisture ... so it can attack the lungs and eyes," he said.

The ERG outlines how anhydrous ammonia should be handled. In the case of a small fire involving anhydrous ammonia, the guidebook states that it should be extinguished by dry chemical, such as Purple-K or CO2. In the event of a larger fire, hoses are utilized in order to cool the container itself down.

The ERG includes more than 170 such guides associated with all types of hazardous material and general guidance on how to respond to incidents involving each particular classification of hazardous material.

"It boils down to training, education and having the reference material we need at hand so that when we do respond, we can handle it in the best fashion to mitigate the problem," Shelton said.

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