Virginia retailer educates emergency personnel about propane

November 6, 2013 By    

The temperature is approaching 100 degrees on a muggy August afternoon in Brookneal, Va., but the 30 first responders on site are not fazed. They all plan to see this three-hour safety-training event at Foster Fuels through.

Foster Fuels is hosting this event, in which 1,100 gallons of propane are being flared in a controlled fashion, for a couple of reasons. One is because a valve on its 30,000-gallon bulk storage tank needs to be replaced. A spring inside the valve is still operational. But it is weakening, and Foster Fuels wants to replace the valve before a problem arises.

The other reason Foster Fuels is hosting this event is to educate the first responders in the area about propane. John George, safety director at Foster Fuels, first approached a county fire marshal, a city fire chief and a county emergency safety coordinator about this safety-awareness opportunity. Within a few days, multiple first responders from the area had committed to attend.

“Part of our thought process was [to educate] not just about stationary storage-type tanks but even DOT tanks,” says Tim Spicer, vice president of propane operations for Foster Fuels. “If there’s an incident on a road with a truck tank, then this allowed them to see that flaring is a safe and effective way to drain vapors as opposed to having to move the container to a different location.”

Foster Fuels started its event by giving first responders an up-close look at the tank and valve. Company representatives explained the procedure. First responders then observed Foster Fuels reps setting up two flare stands and connecting a hose from the tank to the flare stands.

“Once you light the flare, the waiting game begins,” Spicer says. “It was pretty much wait and observe. We were able to keep everybody there the whole time.”

According to Spicer, most of the first responders in attendance had never seen a tank evacuated through flaring. Many of the first responders were also volunteers.

“I think it was six different localities who came out,” he says. “We invited some building official folks, too.”

The times to get to know these folks is during a non-emergency situation like this event, Spicer adds.

“The time not to meet your first responders is in the middle of the night during an emergency situation where decisions are made under pressures and time constraints,” he says.

Spicer encourages other propane retailers to reach out to their first responders in a similar fashion.

“Invite them to your plants,” he says. “Walk them around your tanks. Show them around your trucks. Our industry has a great safety record that we should be proud of, but we all need to do our part to keep it that way.”

LOCATION: Brookneal, Danville, Lovingston and Lynchburg, Va.

FOUNDED: 1921

EMPLOYEES: 180

PROPANE SALES: 4,959,223 annual gallons

ONLINE: www.fosterfuels.com

Photo: Foster Fuels

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the senior editor of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at kyanik@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3724.

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