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WATCH: Area fire fighters train for propane emergencies

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About 43 firefighters showed for the June 19 propane emergencies training at the Ellsworth school bus garage lot. Ellsworth, Spring Valley, River Falls, Lund and Prescott fire departments were represented at the training. Each firefighter was certified to manage propane emergencies by Fire and Industrial Response Enterprises, LLC. Rachel Helgeson / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 4
Outdoor training began with a run-through of different propane tanks by an assistant instructor, Joe Kobielak with Fire and Industrial Response Enterprises, LLC. Departments then split up into groups of five to complete fire response training in full gear. Propane was supplied by Chippewa Valley Energy from Eau Claire. Rachel Helgeson / RiverTown Multimedia 3 / 4
A River Falls Fire Department group approaches one of five ignited propane tanks during training. Crews were instructed to use a fog system to cool the propane tank and redirect the flames before reaching to turn off the propane leak. Rachel Helgeson / RiverTown Multimedia 4 / 4

Forty-three firefighters were certified in managing propane emergencies after participating in a classroom and full-gear training session June 19.

Teams from Ellsworth, Spring Valley, Prescott, Lund and River Falls fire departments were required to learn how to fight live propane fires, with some flames spouting 20 or more feet in the air from ignited propane tank props.

On average the Ellsworth department alone responds to a gas leak report every six weeks, Ellsworth Assistant Fire Chief Randy Brickner said, though the department has never encountered an ignited propane scenario.

In the Ellsworth bus garage parking lot, firefighters in groups of five encountered and approached live propane fires which included grill, forklift, bulk tank and propane terminal piping props.

Training the firefighters was Luke Van Noie, lead instructor with Fire and Industrial Response Enterprises, LLC from Green Bay, along with his assistant instructors Joe Kobielak and Neil Schweiner. The training was conducted in accordance with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1403 standard.

Van Noie reminded the men and women during classroom training prior to hands-on lessons that there is no such thing as a routine fire and no one gets on the firetruck thinking they're always going to come back from a scene.

Brickner said Ellsworth hasn't had the opportunity to bring propane emergency training to the area in 16 years as it is difficult to schedule with instructors who are consistently busy in the early summer months.

Propane was provided by Chippewa Valley Energy, a Wisconsin Propane Gas Association member which participates in a propane industry check-off program which provides funding for this training estimated at $4,000-$5,000, according to a news release from the Wisconsin Propane Education and Research Council.

Ellsworth Fire Department has one of the largest territory coverage areas in the state, Brickner said, which includes nine townships and four villages. They average around 170 calls each year.

A few highlights from Van Noie's classroom presentation:

• Propane emits no odor naturally. Ethanethiol or ethyl mercaptan is added to give a distinct and potent odor for detection.

• Propane is twice as flammable as gasoline.

• Propane tank explosions are not as common as they were in the mid-1900s.

• A propane bobtail truck is extremely durable and lasts a long time.

Propane Education and Research Council suggests the following if you smell propane:

• No flames or sparks! Immediately put out all smoking material and other flames. Do NOT operate lights, appliances, telephones, or cell phones. Flames or sparks from these sources can trigger an explosion.

• Leave the area immediately. Get everyone out of the building or area where you suspect gas is leaking.

• Shut off the gas. Turn off the main gas supply valve on your propane tank, if it is safe to do so. To close the valve, turn it to the right (clockwise).

• Report the leak. From a neighbor's home or other nearby building away from the gas leak, call your local propane retailer. If you can't reach your propane retailer, call 911 or your local fire department.

• Do not return to the building or area, until your propane retailer, emergency responder or qualified service technician determines that it is safe to do so.

• Get your system checked. Before you attempt to use any of your propane appliances, your propane retailer or a qualified service technician must check your entire system to ensure that it is leak-free.

Rachel Helgeson

Rachel Helgeson

(651) 301-7864
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