By Maura Keller
An emergency responder program in New York State offers propane dealers extensive fire and safety training designed to help them handle emergencies.
Every spring the Fire Science program at Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., conducts a course entitled, “Fire Behavior & Combustion.” The DCC Fire Science program is modeled on material formulated by the National Fire Academy, and is recognized by the Academy’s Fire & Emergency Services Committee.
“The goal is to educate emergency personnel as to the properties of LP gas, their containers, transportation methods, uses and locations as well as strategies and tactics that can be employed when dealing with an LP gas incident,” says David Walsh, program chair of the fire science program at the college. The fire science program has broadened its mission to include educating propane marketers about the inherent dangers surrounding fuel oil handling and distribution.
In the early 1990s, Walsh partnered with Star Gas Inc. to provide firefighter LP gas safety training. He was working for a fire department at the time, and that role led to his current career at Dutchess Community College. For the past 11 years the DCC Fire Science program, in conjunction with Rich Muellerleile, president of Star Gas Products in Poughkeepsie, has conducted LP gas fire safety training for area fire departments. They started incorporating this class within the college’s Fire Behavior & Combustion course eight years ago.
As Walsh explains, the goal of the program is to provide the DCC students a chance to interact with area firefighters. When this class is scheduled for the college’s students it is held at an area fire department so that its members and firefighters from other local departments may also attend.
“This has worked out very well and provides a great chance for the students to meet and talk with some experienced firefighters,” Walsh says. “Likewise it gives the firefighters a chance to talk to the college students. It always proves to be a great exchange of information.”
As a fuel oil marketer, Muellerleile emphasizes that propane marketers—and those new to the propane industry—should have ongoing meetings with their employees that focus on the importance of safety, professionalism, job-specific training, and attitudes when it comes to performing their jobs and instructing customers, contractors, and other employees.
“Also, the importance of periodically hiring association-trained and certified outside consultants could further enhance a companies’ training program by providing up-to-date code changes and modifications based upon new products, technologies, installation or service methods, and training specifications that are constantly being updated,” Muellerleile says.
In April 2015, Muellerleile and Walsh hosted an LP Gas (Propane) Safety Awareness class at the Pleasant Valley Fire Department in Pleasant Valley, N.Y. Thirty-nine local Dutchess Community College students and local firefighters participated in the training.
The existing program that Muellerleile and Walsh use offers the student the opportunity to get an initial exposure to the properties of propane, the effects of temperature and pressure in propane containers, how the different pressures in a propane system are utilized, what a flame looks like at different pressures in a standard propane system; and some examples of new appliances or devices a firefighter may encounter in fighting a fire in a residence or business. Outside demonstrations focus on low pressure, high pressure, tank pressure and liquid propane releases. The firematic portion of the class includes demonstrations of proper water disbursement on metal surfaces, the effects of heat on metal surfaces, videos of actual propane incidents; and proper procedures for addressing propane leaks and incidents.
The initial course does not cost the student anything. The intent is to get local firefighters familiarized with the basics of propane.
“Since Dave was a career firefighter and training officer, and is currently the chairman of the Fire Science Department at DCC, he teaches the firefighting strategy and tactics necessary to contain propane fires, as well as the importance of stopping the flow of gas,” Muellerleile says.
Walsh stresses that propane marketers should be well-versed in the potential hazards associated with propane. Emergency services personnel only get called when something goes wrong, Walsh says, and when something goes wrong it is usually because somebody has done wrong.
“Our program is aimed at emergency response personnel but can certainly be beneficial to folks in the propane industry,” Walsh says. “Every fire department should be on a first-name basis with their local propane dealers. Three o’clock in the morning is never a good time to meet somebody and history has proven that joint ventures—before something goes wrong—can be critical to the successful mitigation of an incident.”
As Walsh explains, anybody who either works with or uses propane, like any fuel, should be knowledgeable in “what can go wrong if…”
“Ideally, if they don’t already, the propane professionals can include, with any installation, a review with the owner or occupants of what ‘not to do,’” Walsh says. “And during this interaction it would be beneficial to all if they also could include a discussion of the importance of smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and flammable gas detectors, even though the law does not require the flame gas detectors.”
Fuel marketers—and those who are new to using propane—also can take a three-day emergency response course offered by the New York Propane Gas Association at the New York State Fire Academy in Montour Falls, N.Y. The three-day course is approximately $175, which includes room and board for the three days in Montour Falls.
According to Muellerleile, in this program students get an in-depth education regarding propane safety. The course is based upon a program called “Propane Emergencies,” which was formulated and funded by the Propane Education and Research Council (PERC).
“At the conclusion of the course, graduates have the opportunity to be listed on a state wide emergency call list, which allows them to assist their local fire departments in the event they are called out for a propane emergency,” Muellerleile says. The initial certification is good for three years, and the student must be recertified every three years to remain current.”
While propane safety basics usually only take about two hours to learn, periodic refreshers are beneficial and, in terms of emergency responders, are required by OSHA. The administration’s 29CFR1910.120 regulates all aspects of emergency response—everything from various levels of response or actions up through specific requirements for the fire officer in charge of any hazardous material incident.
“These requirements are both for initial qualification as well as annual refresher requirements,” Walsh says. “Any person involved in an emergency hazardous materials incident must meet these requirements. Also, as any gas leak is classified as a hazardous environment, OSHA‘s Respiratory protection regulation also comes into play. Anybody involved in any hands-on training for a propane incident must satisfy those initial and annual requirements.”
Propane safety training is required for anyone working with propane. The industry has a program called CETP (Certified Employee Training Program), which is a requirement for those within the propane industry. There are currently 12 different training and skills assessments available through the National Propane Gas Association. Some of the programs include basic principles and practices, bobtail delivery operations, basic plant operations, basic electricity for propane appliance service, and transfer system operations, to name just a few.
Staying on top of new techniques and safety issues is paramount for all players within the propane marketing industry. “For firefighters they must annually attend training in anything they might have to do that year so this would apply to this training also,” Walsh says. “But refresher training is just that—insuring that they are proficient in all knowledge, skills, abilities involved with that subject.”