Ethanol: Crossing the Industrial/Municipal Interface

Issue 11 and Volume 160.

RECENT TRANSPORTATION INCIDENTS HAVE SHED light on an emerging challenge facing fire departments across the country. Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) and ethanol blends are becoming more prevalent in our economy. Firefighters must understand the unique atmospheric and burn characteristics of this product so they can effectively and safely handle spills or fire scenarios involving these flammable liquids. In addition, firefighters should be aware of the shortcomings of employing common traditional response tactics at incidents involving this product. The ethanol component of blended gasolines, such as E10 and E85, has dramatically changed the chemistry of “new fuel” fires and, consequently, their response methods. Knowledge is the firefighter’s main tool. This article defines the unique characteristics of ethanol and explains divergent methods for responding to what is fast becoming the foremost challenge for municipal fire responders in public spaces such as highways; gas stations; industrial loading terminals; and other areas where blended ethanol…

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