Ohio Train Derailment and Ethanol Explosion Illustrates Importance of Planning for Ethanol HazMat Incidents

Author: David Willauer, Manager, Transportation & Geospatial Technologies Division, IEM

This week’s Ohio railcar derailment and subsequent ethanol explosion in Ohio is another reminder that ethanol transport poses unique risks for firefighters. Unlike petroleum fires, ethanol fires require special alcohol-resistant foam, or AT-AFFF, to extinguish. However, AT-AFFF foam is still something many fire departments simply do not have on hand. But that is changing. Ethanol is now the number one HAZMAT commodity shipped by rail in the United States and the number of railcars shipping ethanol annually continues to rise.

Last October we saw firsthand how ethanol plants are also helping local fire companies with ethanol fires. Two ethanol plants provided fire-fighting foam to crews battling a major ethanol blaze that broke out in the early hours of October 7, 2011, just outside Tiskilwa in rural northwest Illinois after a train derailed there and prompted the evacuation of the town’s 745 residents. Rail is still the logical choice for ethanol transport from the midwest corn belt (where ethanol is produced) to the US metropolitan areas due to the distances involved. But because of increased risks, firefighters are adding AT-AFFF foam trailers to their mutual aid plans for emergency preparation involving ethanol.

Related Discussions on Ethanol:

Ethanol: The New HAZMAT?
Emerging Ethanol Regulations

Chemical Company Safety and Security Mandates with Feds on All Sides

Ethanol: A Growing Market with New Firefighting Challenges

Multi-Modal Transportation Safety and Security



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2 Responses to “Ohio Train Derailment and Ethanol Explosion Illustrates Importance of Planning for Ethanol HazMat Incidents”

  1. Casey Ryan says:

    Yes, shipping ethanol by train and semi-truck has become a major concern for fire departments who have both interstates and rail lines running through their jurisdictions. The good news is that they no longer have to rely on AR-AFFF. They can now stock their trucks with Novacool UEF (Universal Extinguishing Foam) that is UL listed for both Class A and Class B fires, meaning that they only have to have one foam on their truck. Novacool takes the guess work out of what the underlying flammable is as it also works on Class D and Class K fires. Novacool is only used at 0.5% instead of 3 – 6 % as required by AR-AFFF. Because Ethanol is a polar solvent that is readily mixable with water, Novacool, a wetting agent, is more thoroughly mixed with the ethanol so that it cools the ethanol and suppresses the vapors emitted. It can also be used against 3D fires where there is fuel continuing to be dumped on the fire during the extinguishment. If you have any doubts about a wetting agents ability to extinguish a Class B fire, please visit: http://www.swfirefightingfoam.com/class_b_fire_extinguisher.shtml to learn more…

  2. Thanks for your post Casey. Firefighters need to know all the options for contending with different fuel fires. I understand Novacool demonstrated its effectiveness at last year’s Gulf Coast Emergency Response Academy in Axis, AL, during the Industrial Fire World Emergency Response Training and Expo. I’ve included the link below in case folks are interested.


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