In an effort to maintain safety for those they serve, the Newcomerstown Emergency Rescue Squad's Fire Division has invested in a new way of helping fight oil and gas well fires.
This new way of fighting fires is actually through an application of a specialized foam directly applied on the fire.
The foam prevents the release of vapors from the fire by "blanketing" the fire and essentially extinguishing it, said Heather Stein-Wells, president of NERS.
"It looks like a gigantic bubble bath for lack of a better description," she added.
So far, the department has purchased 10 five-gallon pails of the foam. However, Stein-Wells said the foam is rather expensive. She said the foam costs approximately $28 per gallon, and this type of foam is known as ATC AR-AFFF foam or Aqueous Film Forming Foam.
The foam is biodegradable and environmentally-friendly which requires very low energy input to produce a very high quality foam blanket that floats on the fuel surface.
Stein-Wells said the foam is mixed with water in hoses on the fire truck and these specialized hoses are used to spray the foam on the fire. They also have a portable foam pack that is used in cases where the fire is relatively small in size or difficult to get to but very flammable.
She said the department has been called to several oil and natural gas well fires recently. Most recently, she said they were called to help with a fire at an oil well storage tank explosion off River Road, Gnadenhutten, in January of this year. However, one of the main problems for firefighters to extinguish the fire is actually turning off the fuel source. To do that, firefighters must call the telephone number of the company on the side of the well that is on fire to have company officials respond to the scene. In that case, she said firefighters use binoculars, if they cannot get close to the fire.
She also said on-lookers and sight-seers are also a problem when firefighters are trying to locate the well site as the vehicles hinder the response of emergency vehicles by blocking the road. Locating the well itself can be difficult, especially when the wells don't have addresses.
"Sometimes that's a challenge because there is no address to the site so that makes it more difficult to locate for firefighters and also for the person calling in the fire if they are not familiar with the area," she said.
Stein-Wells said Newcomerstown firefighter and paramedic Steve Wright has done many hours of research to find the right product and type of foam to be used to extinguish these fires in the most efficient manner.
Besides the use of the new AFFF foam, she said the firefighters are also continuing to do trainings on how to safely and efficiently extinguish an oil and gas well fire.
"We are trying to send our members (firefighters and paramedics) to specialized training," she said.
Newcomerstown firefighters are required to attend weekly training sessions at the fire station and this is just one more way that the village fire department is helping to ensure the safety of those they serve.