Joint fire drill moves 180,000 gallons of water at Cloquet paper millIt’s been close to 50 years since a lightning strike started a fire in the wood yard of Cloquet’s paper mill, but should lightning strike twice in the same spot … area firefighters are prepared.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
It’s been close to 50 years since a lightning strike started a fire in the wood yard of Cloquet’s paper mill, but should lightning strike twice in the same spot … area firefighters are prepared.
In one of the largest joint fire training exercises in Carlton County in recent times, full-time and volunteer firefighters from the Esko, Carlton, Mahtowa, Industrial, Wrenshall, East and West Brevator and Culver fire departments and the Cloquet Area Fire District (CAFD) converged at the Sappi paper mill early Sept. 10 to practice for a scenario in which 25 percent of the wood pile was “engaged,” or burning. While Sappi and CAFD organized the drill, firefighters and trucks from eight additional area fire departments (mostly volunteer) participated in the training.
Everyone learned a lot.
“To keep that [engaged fire] from going further, we figured we would need to move 7,000 gallons of water per minute,” explained Ken Klatt, the CAFD’s division chief of safety and training. “We wanted to see if we had the capability to do that without tapping into the city’s water supply,” he added, explaining that city water would be unavailable if there were a power outage, for example, following a severe storm.
With a peak capacity of more than 120,000 cord of wood, the acres west of the paper mill are prime fire fodder – so they set no actual fire that Saturday morning. Instead, firefighters tested equipment, planning and their abilities to determine exactly how much water they could move in a morning. While two ladder trucks hooked up to the Sappi hydrant system, two engine/pumper trucks worked to draft water from the river. The water was transferred to tanker trucks which then carried it back to more engine/pumper trucks that sprayed water across and into the St. Louis River. Throughout the drill, tanker trucks drove between the spot at the west end of the wood yard – where water was being sucked out of the river – back to the east end of the wood yard where the other trucks and holding tanks were set up.
Bob DeCaigny, Sappi’s plant protection superintendent and chairman of the CAFD board, said the fire prevention efforts were sparked by a capital plan at the mill and subsequent concerns about improving the fire protection in the Sappi wood yard. To accomplish that, improvements were made to the Sappi fire protection system, including the purchase of 3,000 feet of large 5-inch fire hose and associated fittings. The fire district keeps the hose and fittings with its trucks at all times. The Sappi fire protection system can also provide water to its hydrant system with two diesel powered pumps in the event of a power outage.
“This represents a significant investment, DeCaigny said about Sappi’s purchase of more than a half-mile worth of hose and fittings. “And it not only benefits Sappi, it also benefits neighboring organizations and communities because the fire district can use that equipment [to fight fires elsewhere].”
Once Sappi laid the groundwork with its own purchases and improvements, the next step was the drill and “subsequent work to polish what we learn,” DeCaigny said.
What they learned has already been put into practice. During the drill, only the East Brevator pumper truck was able to draft from the river; the CAFD truck operators never managed to get the water flowing into their truck. However, after the drill CAFD staff identified the problem and successfully drafted water from a creek the very next day to fight a barn fire.
After the Sept. 20 drill was over, Klatt said the combined fire departments were able to move a maximum of 7,462 gallons per minute, but that was not sustainable. They were, however, able to sustain a water flow of 6,500 gallons per minute for a period of 15 minutes.
“If this were the real thing, we’d have trucks all over the place,” said Klatt, noting that turnout for the drill was not 100 percent. “For what we had – and having a pumper truck go down – that was tremendous.”
Sappi Wood Yard Coordinator Cory Swanson was also pleased with the training exercise.
“It gives the fire departments a good lay of the land,” he said, pointing out that the departments had to consider fire hydrant locations and traffic obstacles when figuring out how to set up and where to run the lengthy hoses.
Swanson also noted that in the event of an actual fire, the mill could also access air support for what would undoubtedly be a tough fire to put out because of the large quantities of wood stored at the site.
“We all learned some stuff,” Klatt said, noting that they plan to have more exercises with other area fire departments. “And the more the different departments get to know each other, the safer things will be on the fire end and the more smoothly things will go.”