WATERMAN – Firefighters from several local departments responded to a staged scene in Waterman on Saturday morning that included two cars engulfed in flames, clouds of gray smoke and several small explosions.
The action, which slightly resembled a “Transformers” movie production, was conducted by the Local Emergency Planning Committee (L.E.P.C.) of DeKalb County as an ethanol foam suppression training exercise. About 20 firefighters from departments in Waterman, Shabbona, Big Rock, Hinckley, Montgomer, and Mt. Prospect participated in the training session.
Frank Beierlotzer, contractor for the L.E.P.C., staged a 911 call via cellphone, acting as a disoriented passerby reporting an accident to local emergency responders. The firefighters then did a simulated “box alarm,” calling other departments to assist with the fires.
“It is truly a test of not only just the fire guys, but the whole system,” said L.E.P.C. member Bob Coulter from DeKalb, who has an extensive background dealing with chemicals spills.
“From the initial beginning, we found out that fire departments didn’t actually have the correct foam to put out ethanol fires,” Coulter said. “Now, most of the local communities have all the upgraded top-of-the-line foam, so if there is an incident the communities can feel comfortable knowing that they have fire departments that can put out the fire.”
Most of the fire departments the L.E.P.C. works with are volunteer departments, so they don’t get as many opportunities to do this kind of exercise. Also, they usually don’t have access to the funds to provide the training.
“In order to get grant money for what we do, it has to be a transportation-related chemical,” Beierlotzer said.
The firefighters practiced flowing foam on real ethanol fires. They did one cycle of fires, then removed the foam and re-started the fires. They had about 100 gallons of ethanol to use for the fires.
“You flow foam; you don’t spray foam,” Beierlotzer said. “The idea is, you put a blanket over the liquid so the vapors don’t come up and catch on fire. You’re basically smothering the fire, not putting it out with water. If you put water in there, you’re spreading it.”
Lt. Matt Speerly from the Waterman Fire Department said this training was important because they don’t often get a chance to work with foam and vehicle fires and also coordinate with other departments.
“It’s nice to be able to use foam and work with everybody and have fun doing it,” Speerly said.
Glen Baum, volunteer firefighter/paramedic with the Big Rock Fire Department, conducts this kind of training with high school students as an instructor in the Fire Science program at the Fox Valley Career Center at Kaneland High School.
“The gentleman that really needed to be out here was the representative from Burlington Northern Santa Fe; he would have added some more stuff to it,” said Baum, of Oswego. “This would be more rail car and semi-truck stuff.”
He said there is a place out in Pueblo, Colorado, called SERTC that does training like this on rail cars.
“Everybody should be cognizant of what’s going down the railroads and down the highways. With the development of fuels, this is something you could see,” Baum saod.
The next emergency training exercise for the I.E.P.C. will be with the MABAS Division #6 Hazardous Materials Response Team on Sept. 18 at DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport.