Up in flames

Firefighters representing agencies throughout Marquette County participate in a Michigan Propane Gas Association training exercise in the Westwood Mall parking lot Thursday. (Journal photos by Kelsie Thompson)

MARQUETTE — About 60 firefighters representing virtually every department in Marquette County had the opportunity to fight propane-fueled flames during a training session Thursday.

“This is the most realistic scenario we can run that duplicates a propane emergency,” said Ron DeMarse, chief of the Marquette Township Fire Department. “This shows exactly how a propane fire will burn, just in a controlled setting.”

The training, which included an informational classroom portion followed by live burn demonstrations and exercises in the Westwood Mall parking lot in Marquette Township, was led by the Michigan Propane Gas Association.

MPGA Membership Services Director Michelle Dishaw said the Lansing-based association hosts summer trainings throughout the entire state, with about two in the Upper Peninsula each year.

“We focus on propane heavy areas,” she said, adding about 600 to 800 firefighters are trained annually.

Two firefighters from Humboldt Township gear up for the propane tank exercise. (Journal photos by Kelsie Thompson)

DeMarse said MPGA visits the Marquette area about every five years, providing critical continuing education and refresher courses for local firefighters.

“This takes the education side and puts the hands on it,” he said. “It just doesn’t get more realistic.”

DeMarse said his agency responds to numerous propane accidents — mostly grill fires that ignite a nearby home or structure — each summer.

Firefighters learned Thursday that it’s important when dealing with a propane emergency to remember the fire cannot be simply extinguished. The source must be turned off.

In the live burn exercises — which simulated a gas line fire, grill fire and large tank fire — trainees created a fog pattern that served as a thermal shield, allowing them to slowly approach the source of the fire.

Seven-man teams create a fog pattern, allowing them to approach a controlled propane tank fire in the Westwood Mall parking lot during the MPGA training. (Journal photos by Kelsie Thompson)

Once close enough, the lead of each seven-man team reached through to turn a valve, shutting off the propane.

Those watching could feel the heat of the more than 50-foot flames, as firefighters from each agency took turns running through the large tank exercise.

Michael Thomas of the Negaunee Township Fire Department said the training was very informative and realistic.

“I haven’t fought anything like this before,” he said. “But every day is a new day. (The training) is vital. You have to know what you’re doing so you don’t put yourself or the people around you in danger.”

Kelsie Thompson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is kthompson@miningjournal.net.

Dan Shanahan, assistant fire chief at the Marquette Township Fire Department, directs firefighters where to go during the live burn training. (Journal photos by Kelsie Thompson)