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

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


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