Drone used for situational awareness at propane tank fire

This article first appeared at Fire Aviation.

Firefighters in Minnesota say the video provided by a drone gave them critical information and situational awareness at a propane fire near Callaway on March 24. The 200-person town was evacuated when a propane tanker truck collided with a freight train, causing a major derailment and fire.

Propane fires can be extremely dangerous. A BLEVE — Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion — can kill anyone nearby.

Below is an excerpt an article at DL-online:

…Piloted by a Perham firefighter, the drone flew over the scene of a derailment and propane tanker truck fire last week, giving firefighters a critical bird’s-eye view of the dangerous situation, said Callaway Fire Chief Keith Heinlein, who was in charge at the scene.

“My decisions are only as good as the information I have,” he said.

Information from the drone was invaluable, letting firefighters see “what was burning and where,” including areas that were blocked from view because of overturned grain cars, he said.

Emergency responders watched the live video feed from the drone on a screen inside their on-site command center.

Heinlein said they were joined in “the war room” by Cenex Harvest State Propane professionals who, thanks to the drone video, could see the propane tanker burning, including close-ups of valves and other parts, “and tell us exactly what was happening,” he said.

The propane tanker truck burned for about 10 hours, all the while being cooled by a steady stream of water shot by firefighters, before the liquid propane had burned off and was replaced by more volatile propane gas, Heinlein said.

The propane fire got too hot at one point and the tanker vented, causing a visible flare-up before firefighters cooled it down again, Heinlein said.

Later it heated up again in spite of firefighter efforts to keep it cooled down. “We got behind it,” couldn’t keep it cool enough, and it exploded, Heinlein said…

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Steve.