RFA resources for ethanol safety training

CarolinaFireJournal -

07/15/2014 -

As the national trade association for America’s ethanol industry, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has taken safety extremely serious since day one. Being fully prepared for an ethanol-related incident requires time and proper training for first responders. Despite all efforts to prevent accidents, there is always the possibility of the unthinkable happening, and it is essential that first responders act immediately to ethanol emergencies as fully prepared as possible. It is absolutely crucial to have an ethanol emergency education program wherever new biofuels are being introduced.


According to the Association of American Railroads, approximately 1.7 million loads of hazardous materials were shipped by rail in 2012 and 99.997 percent were delivered without accident. The ethanol industry takes every precaution in the supply chain, from the plant to the retail fueling station, to ensure each ethanol shipment arrives safely and that an emergency plan is never needed. In the unlikely event of an ethanol emergency, training and education ahead of an incident are imperative.

RFA is a founding member of the Ethanol Emergency Response Coalition (EERC). RFA and EERC share the common mission of ensuring the safety of first responders, ethanol industry employees, and the communities in which ethanol is produced, transported, and used. Together, we have developed a program to train emergency responders to handle ethanol-related emergencies.

In 2006, RFA and EERC created the original safety training program, “The Training Guide to Ethanol Emergency Response,” and distributed thousands of copies of the program across the country and internationally. The training materials include eight Power Point sections covering topics ranging from ethanol’s physical properties to ethanol’s transport and use, instructor manuals and participant guides that work in conjunction with the Power Point, and two training videos – “Emergency Response Considerations” and “Responding to Ethanol Incidents.”

In May, RFA unveiled an updated version of “The Training Guide to Ethanol Emergency Response,” which now includes a host of new resources. The guide now includes RFA’s “Fuel Ethanol Guidelines for Release Prevention,” which explains environmental response techniques, Rail Car 101 – a Power Point showing critical safety equipment on non-pressure railroad tank cars – the 2012 U.S. Department of Transportation Emergency Response Guidebook, and the Association of American Railroad’s “Pamphlet 34 – Recommended Methods for the Safe Loading and Unloading of Non-Pressure (General Service) and Pressure Tank Cars” and “Tank Car Loading and Unloading” video.

RFA has showcased this training through Ethanol Safety Seminars, which it began hosting in December 2010 through a grant from the Department of Energy. Additionally, RFA has received grant funding from the Federal Railroad Administration and has partnered with Class I Railroads, emergency management agencies, fire departments, and others to make the safety seminars a reality.

RFA held Ethanol Safety Seminars across the country with overwhelming success. Each safety seminar generated interest in hosting safety training in additional areas of the United States. To date, RFA has held more than 100 Ethanol Safety Seminars in 21 states across the country, training thousands of emergency responders.

The safety seminars will head to a dozen cities this year, with exact dates and locations were announced in June. To further spread this ethanol training, RFA has partnered with TRANSCAER® for a 2013/2014 Ethanol Training Tour, which launched last fall. The goal of this tour is for emergency responders to gain full ethanol emergency response training experience that they can put to use immediately in the field as well as pass along to other emergency response teams.

The seminars are broken down into eight modules that address everything from the chemical makeup of ethanol to fighting an ethanol fire. Ethanol burns differently than gasoline and needs to be extinguished differently as well. While gasoline emits a thick black smoke, ethanol burns with little to no smoke. Unlike gasoline, ethanol is water soluble and can’t be extinguished with water, and instead needs to be blanketed with a gentle layer of alcohol resistant foam until the fire is smothered. The seminar addresses this and more.

The eight modules consist of:

An Introduction to Ethanol

An overview of the course.

Module 1: Ethanol and Ethanol-Blended Fuels
Before responders can handle an ethanol related emergency, they have to know the basics. They are taught the difference between pure gasoline and ethanol-blended gasoline, as well as the three most common ethanol blends.

Module 2: Chemical and Physical Characteristics of Ethanol and Hydrocarbon Fuels
Once the responders understand the differences between gasoline and ethanol-blended gasoline, the program digs deeper into the makeup of both gasoline and ethanol fuels. In order to understand the nature of ethanol-blended fuels, emergency responders need to understand the characteristics of polar solvents and hydrocarbons, their differences, and how these types of products interact. Understanding these conditions will help emergency responders mitigate the various incidents according to the conditions found.

Module 3: Transportation and Transfer of Ethanol-Blended Fuels
After the responders know the makeup of fuels, they learn the specifics on how ethanol-blended fuels are transported and transferred, as well as where the most likely points for error in these actions will exist. It is essential that emergency responders be able to quickly and effectively identify the presence of ethanol at the scene of an incident and recognize the proper placarding and marking of ethanol-blended fuels. Correct identification of ethanol and ethanol-blended fuels can ensure proper steps are taken so incidents are managed effectively.

Module 4: Storage and Dispensing Locations
Responders are given information on where ethanol is located and stored within their jurisdiction. Many believe that if there is no bulk storage operation or production operation in their jurisdiction, they have little to worry about. This could not be farther from the truth. Ethanol and ethanol-blended fuels are found at production facilities, bulk tank farms, rail transload facilities, farm cooperatives, construction sites and retail fueling stations within communities and throughout the country.

Module 5: Fire Fighting Foam Principles and Ethanol-Blended Fuels
Responders are taught fire fighting strategies and foam-use tactics for controlling and fighting fires associated with flammable liquid hazards. The predominate danger from ethanol emergencies is not from incidents involving cars and trucks running on ethanol-blended fuel, but instead from tanker trucks and rail cars carrying large amounts of ethanol, manufacturing facilities, and storage facilities. Responders need to be prepared to handle large-scale emergencies with the most effective techniques and extinguishing foam. Responders learn foam basics and how to apply that foam specifically to ethanol-related emergencies.

Module 6: Health and Safety Considerations for Ethanol-Blended Fuel Emergencies
Responders are taught appropriate spill control methods, proper personal protective equipment (PPE), and detection and monitoring devices for responding to ethanol-blended fuel incidents. Understanding the properties and characteristics of both gasoline and ethanol will help emergency responders mitigate incidents involving ethanol-blended fuels.

Module 7: Tank Farm and Bulk Storage Fire Incidents
Responders develop preemptive plans to fight or contain fires at tank farms and bulk storage facilities. Tank farm and bulk storage fire operations can be extremely dangerous and require an extremely advanced technical knowledge of flammable liquids fire fighting and fire protection. Departments that are responsible for these installations are taught to establish extensive pre-fire plans and schedule drills and walkthroughs on a regular basis. It is imperative the departments have good relations and cooperation with the facility operators and staff. In addition to their own emergency plan, they are also taught to establish a plan in case the fire or emergency is too large for a single department to handle.

To attend an upcoming ethanol safety seminar or receive a hard copy of the updated “Training Guide to Ethanol Emergency Response,” please contact [email protected]. Training materials can also be found at www.ethanolresponse.com/pages/resources.

About the Renewable Fuels Association The Renewable Fuels Association is the leading trade association for America’s ethanol industry. Its mission is to advance the development, production, and use of ethanol fuel by strengthening America’s ethanol industry and raising awareness about the benefits of renewable fuels. RFA’s members are working to help America become cleaner, safer, more energy independent and economically secure. For more information, visit www.EthanolRFA.org.
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Issue 33.4 | Spring 2019

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