It takes a particularly patience US Fire Chief to be called out to the same location eight times since May 2008, and state that “Every time we go out, we can learn from that. Each time is a training experience.”
Fire Chief Mike Kobel’s patch is the Eastern Prairie district of Champaign, Illinois, and his particular bétè noir is a disused grain elevator, just across the street from his fire station.
The old grain elevator and the silos are being reclaimed by crews of contractors, and this process is when Chief Kobel’s problems started. Kobel was quoted in the local News Gazette, explaining that when the crews use cutting torches to remove parts, the flames ignite remnants of grain, their oils, and grain dusts, resulting in the smoldering fires.
Kobel is also resigned to the particular problems of fires involving dried organic produce: “Last week, we put several hundred gallons on one area. We knocked it down and the smoke quit. Rest assured, when you’re dealing with a pile of grain, it’s going to start smoking again.”
Site owner Chris Knipfer told the newspaper that he often doesn’t even know about fires at the grain elevator until the fire engine arrives, as the alarm has been raised by drivers on the nearby interstate highway, spotting smoke.
Chief Kobel is certainly using the grain elevator fires as an excellent source of training for his volunteer force of firefighters – and the contractors. He has instructed all contractors on site to put out smaller fires using fire extinguishers, whilst his crew make the most of each incident as training for a potentially major emergency.
For example, when their fire truck was called to a recent incident at the grain silos, the firefighters decided to check if their ladder would be long enough to reach the top of the silo if a fire broke out there. It wasn’t. So, if your company exports 140 foot long fire ladders to the US, you know who to call.