Monday, May 3, 2010

Practicing to Fight LP Gas Fires

Hillsboro Firefighters spent this past week training on propane tank fires at the Washington County Fairgrounds. Though relatively rare, these fires burn extremely hot—as high as 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Add to the high temperatures the fact that a propane tank heated by a surrounding fire can experience a catastrophic failure (called a boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion) and the danger jumps many times. Exploding LP gas rail cars have been hurled three quarters of a mile. That’s why firefighters, especially rookies, spend considerable time learning how to fight them.

In an LP gas fire, firefighters must learn how to advance two hose lines in perfect unison to keep the tank cool and to provide a directional water barrier that pushes the intense heat and flames away. Firefighters used a specially-constructed propane tank prop that simulates such a fire and practiced shutting off the flow of propane feeding that blaze. They advanced the hose lines carefully until they were just inches away from the tank. That’s when the team leader reached through the spray and shut off the flow of propane. Then they retreated in a similar fashion since the fire and leaking propane may not quit immediately.

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