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Oil and gas surge means more training for firefighters

April 13, 2012
By Kate York - The Marietta Times ( , The Marietta Times

Day two of the "Responding to Oil Field Emergencies" class in a Wayne County firefighter training facility involves taking 100 barrels filled with crude oil and setting them ablaze.

While the scene may look frightening, with the right skills, it's very manageable.

"Once they learn good foam application, they can knock that down in five minutes," said Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, which created the course. "It's a lot different than a structure fire and it's not part of normal training but it's so important to learn."

The fiery set-up is one that more than 800 Ohio firefighters have now learned how to handle in the class, which has been offered free of charge for 12 years and is funded through donations and sponsorships.

It's a course many more fire departments in the state are signing up for as they prepare for the oil and gas boom expected-and already begun in some counties-due to the drilling process known as fracking, which can reach deep deposits of Utica shale.

"It's most definitely necessary," said Josh Harris, chief of the Lowell-Adams Fire Department. "If there is a fire (on a drilling site) it'll be a different predicament it puts us in. None of our guys have had training on this."

Fact Box

At a glance

The training is held five times a year in a Wayne County fire training facility.

The courses are free, with meals and lodging also funded by donations.

The curriculum was developed 12 years ago.

To date, more than 800 Ohio firefighters have completed the course.

The next training sessions are set for April 28-29 and May 19-20.

For information:

Harris said he's been looking into possible training opportunities for the department.

The Beverly Fire Department had a "mini" introductory course in December and will likely partner with other departments, including Lowell-Adams, for further training, said chief Phil Lowe.

"What we've learned is that from a fire standpoint if one of these (wells) is catching on fire our job will be protect the other structures in the area," he said. "The heat will be so high that the equipment will be ruined away so our main job would be to try to salvage the vehicles and buildings in the area. From what I understand, the chance of a fire is pretty slim but if it happens, we would want to know what to do."

Part of the training is also what not to do.

The companies drilling at the sites would likely be responsible for shutting off wells and handling the wells in case of an emergency, firefighters said.

It's also important that first responders are familiar enough with the drilling equipment to know what's normal and what's a potential problem, Reda said.

"Unfortunately there are a lot of calls that come in and it turns out to be equipment doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing," she said. "And we don't want to tie up community resources with that."

The next training courses are scheduled for April 28-29 and May 19-20 at the permanent training facility in Wayne County, known as "Disneyland for firefighters," Reda said. The site has a portion devoted just for oil and gas training.

Already, several volunteer fire departments from Noble and Monroe counties have signed up for the spring sessions, said Reda.

Some also attended the last training session, at the beginning of April, including five members of the Summerfield Fire Department and four members of the Caldwell Fire Department, both in Noble County.

"It's a different kind of training," said Daryl Farnsworth, assistant fire chief of the Summerfield department. "With a structure fire, you've done that so many times you can almost predict what it will do. With oil and gas, there's that uncertainty in our heads."

Farnsworth, a firefighter for 26 years, said he wanted the training for the department following a massive fire and two explosions near Belle Valley in March 2011, when a fire at Carper Well Service spread from a shed to oil and gas storage tanks. His department was one that responded.

"It put the nervous bug on everyone's back," he said. "It was a scary situation. And now we have the drilling starting."

Already, there is an Eclipse Resources well in a neighboring county close enough that Summerfield would be the second station to respond, and a second well being put in only six or seven miles away. Eclipse also sponsored the fire department, completely funding their recent training.

"It worked out really well," said Farnsworth. "I feel a lot more prepared."

Incidents at the well sites are rare, said Reda.

"There aren't many problems," she said.

"And one of the reasons for that is in Ohio, we know what to do."



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