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Training for propane danger

New York Mills and Deer Creek firefighters create a "wall of water" and march toward the flaming propane tanks during drills last week in New York Mills.1 / 2
Pictured here, the two propane tanks, courtesy of Lakes Area Cooperative, which were set ablaze for the fire drill.2 / 2

Every fire scene has its own set of threats and dangers; and area firefighters last week received hands-on training in dealing with propane fuel tanks.

A pair of tanks, capable of producing a million BTU's, was set ablaze in New York Mills April 27 and 29 as NY Mills and Deer Creek firefighters learned the delicate challenges of dealing with propane tanks.

The high risks connected to fuel tanks at fire scenes were boldy evident less than a year ago, when half of the town of Wolf Lake was evacuated after a fuel leak.

New York Mills Fire Chief Reed Jacobson said his department has not experienced a major propane threat, but they have been called out for ruptures and leaks on natural gas lines. Though, at least in recent history, there has not been a siginifant fuel-related fire.

To approach a propane tank at a fire scene, firefighters create a "wall of water" as they move forward in a march-like formation.

"We run the water to keep the tanks cool and to keep the flames and gasses away," said Jacobson.

As the platoon of firefighers reaches the tank, one of them reaches through the shower of water to close down the valve.

Propane is "heavier than air," a property that makes it settle low to the ground, said Kevin Holmer, a Frazee firefighter and Lakes Area Cooperative employee who provided a propane tank truck and fuel for the drill with Deer Creek and NY Mills firefighters. Complicating the matter, for firefighters, is the fact that one gallon of liquid propane produces 200 gallons of gaseous vapor. It will dissipate eventually, said Holmer, but firefighers are on standby and the area of the leak is quarantined until it is safe, which is determined by a special meter, said Holmer.