Home Interviews THMG115 – Ethanol with Dan Baker and Ed Fletcher of NYS OFPC

THMG115 – Ethanol with Dan Baker and Ed Fletcher of NYS OFPC


In this episode, we discuss ethanol with Dan Baker and Ed Fletcher from the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control.

Complete Show Notes

2:50 What is Ethanol?

  • Ethyl alcohol used in a lot of different things – we’re most familiar with it as the 10% ethanol in our gasoline
  • In New York, it’s mostly made from corn stock – other places make it with everything from grape waste to weeds (anything with sugar)
  • Big push for ethanol use in 2009 as an alternative fuel for automobiles – fuel is called E85, which is 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline
  • Today, we mainly see ethanol being used either as a fuel or as a solvent

6:00 The National Fire Academy’s Relationship to the Ethanol Industry

  • Reauthorization Act incentivized ethanol use as an alternative fuel
  • Concerns arose regarding how the ethanol would get to the station and how traffic would increase getting in and out of gas stations that sold it
  • Prominent ethanol-related incidents across the country got them thinking about exposure to risk and how easily an ethanol incident could overwhelm local first responders

8:00 Transporting Ethanol (Pure or Denatured)

  • Commonly transported in Type 306 and 406 tanker trucks, which are typical gasoline haulers
  • Ethanol is added into the gasoline at the actual facility, so it’s denatured – ethanol used for industrial use is pure
  • Transported on trains, but every single train car will be carrying ethanol (pure or denatured)
  • ATF doesn’t get involved with denatured ethanol, which makes it a lot easier to transport
  • Denaturing just means gasoline is added since the ethanol isn’t intended for consumption (you can drink pure ethanol)

12:00 Handling Ethanol vs. Handling Gasoline

  • You need the right kind of foam, and you have to apply it at a higher proportioning rate than you would with gasoline
  • Tactics are similar in other ways, though – regardless, you always need to correctly identify the fuel type you’re dealing with
  • Anything E10 or below (i.e. regular gasoline) – use conventional concentrates
  • Anything 10% or above – use an alcohol-resistant foam (like AFFF)

18:30 Identifying and Handling Ethanol On-Scene

  • Apply your foam at a rate appropriate for an alcohol
  • Recommendations from manufacturers on which foam to use and how much vary based on the blend you’re dealing with
  • Quick size-up:
    • How big is the spill?
    • Can you get more information from the vehicle’s placarding?
  • Don’t be hesitant to spend a bit more money on top-of-the-line foams – they work right away, so you don’t have to use as much of them
  • Chances are you’ll recoup some (if not all) of your expenses from the carrier’s insurance company
  • High-quality foams also have a long shelf life when stored properly
  • Have your thermal imager on hand as you approach incidents to make sure you’re not missing anything
  • Even though you can’t see the ethanol burning, everything around it will clearly be on fire – not like in the lab

25:15 Water and Ethanol

  • Ethanol is a polar solvent, which means it mixes well with gasoline and is miscible in water
  • As ethanol mixes with water, it takes a whole bunch of dilution before you reduce the flammability of the product – increased volume and surface area means bigger spills and more flammability
  • We need to be concerned about spills – ethanol can travel a really long distance due to its affinity for water
  • Also nearly impossible to remove ethanol from the surface of water since it’s already mixed in
  • Renewable Fuels Association diluted ethanol 1000 times and it was still flammable

30:00 Contacting Dan and Ed

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