Firefighters get training in natural gas industry

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HOUSTON – The techniques needed to fight a natural gas fire or contain a hazardous material leak are much different than what firefighters face when they come upon a fully engulfed home.


That’s why MarkWest workers and more than 20 area firefighters gathered Saturday at the Washington County Fire Academy in Chartiers Township to train on the nuances of battling blazes or handling leaks that might arise from the natural gas drilling and processing industries.


Dennis Buckley, the safety manager for MarkWest’s processing facility near Houston, noted something as simple as wind direction could make a big difference in responding to a liquid petroleum fire or leak.


“It gets the firefighters out of their normal mindset they’re use to,” Buckley said of the training. “Hopefully, they never need to use it again.”


This is the third year MarkWest has organized the training day for Washington County emergency responders, and this year expanded it by inviting firefighters from Butler County in Pennsylvania and Marshall, Doddridge and Wetzel counties in West Virginia. Saturday’s training happened at the academy center directly across the street from MarkWest’s sprawling processing plant.


The training involved classroom sessions and outdoor displays with examples of different types of gas fires that firefighters might see at processing plants, compressor stations or railroad tankers. Buckley said in some circumstances it’s not best to douse the flames with water, but extinguish them by instead controlling a leak.


Buckley, who is also an Avella firefighter, knows how important it is to expand the knowledge for emergency responders.


“They need to have faith in the systems before they man up and storm troop into the situation,” Buckley said. “These guys are now wearing two shoes, not just one. They know structure fires and now they know industry (fires).”


Ron Sicchitano, deputy director of the Washington County Department of Public Safety, said it’s especially important for them to learn about the different gases in production and their properties.


“It’s learning the type of product,” Sicchitano said. “It’s more of the names and to keep everything in mind such as the properties and what they can do. There’s a big difference from a leak to a fire and knowing what each can do.”


The sessions not only brought firefighters from around this area, but also included MarkWest employees who live in Washington County, giving the training added local importance.


Wray White is the safety coordinator for MarkWest’s Majorsville processing facility in Marshall County, W.Va., but lives in Chartiers Township. He said training local firefighters how to handle unusual situations prepares them for anything that may happen.


“We own it,” White said about the community’s safety. “We live here, our families live here. We want to make sure it’s safe.”


And both MarkWest and Washington County emergency officials hope these training sessions continue to improve and become more comprehensive.


“We’re going to keep taking it up a notch,” Buckley said.


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