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TRENTON, N.J.—The Mercer County Active Fire Chiefs Association and local fire officials thanked County Executive Brian M. Hughes and the Mercer County administration recently for the County’s acquisition of a specialized fire truck.

The fire officials attended a meeting of the Board of Chosen Freeholders on June 22, 2010 to express their gratitude for the purchase and to explain to the freeholders why this particular fire apparatus — a foam pumper — is a crucial piece in the arsenal of fire-fighting equipment. Freeholders voted unanimously in support of the purchase.

The specialized fire truck, a 1985 GMC, contains a special type of firefighting foam that can extinguish ethanol fires. As the nation moves toward alternatives fuels, the use of ethanol has rapidly increased, however, ethanol fires are harder to extinguish than gasoline fires and require this special foam, explained Dan Galatro, president of the Mercer County Active Fire Chiefs Association.

Water is not used against gasoline fires because it can spread the blaze.  Instead, foam is used to form a blanket on top of the burning gasoline and snuff out of the flames. But ethanol — a type of grain alcohol often distilled from corn — eats through that foam and continues to burn. Such fires require special alcohol-resistant foam that relies on long-chain molecules known as polymers to smother the flames, according to the Ethanol Emergency Response Coalition. “When ethanol levels surpass 10 percent, the other foam does not work,” explained Trenton-Mercer Airport Fire Chief David Holmes.

Mercer County is home to many routes of commerce, including Route 1, the New Jersey Turnpike and interstates 195, 295 and 95. Firefighters cited several tanker accidents along highways within Mercer County, and said fortunately none of those tankers ruptured. In the case of a ruptured tanker, the level of disaster could be enormous, they said. Additionally, rail cars that traverse Mercer County carry high amounts of ethanol-fuel, and the industrial site at Duck Island is home to significant amounts of the fuel. In the case of a car accident, firefighters say that a heavy dousing of conventional foam can extinguish a fire of that size.

The foam in the pumper truck is more expensive than conventional foam, and the firefighters praised the purchase price, stating that the foam in the truck is worth more than the apparatus itself. The foam has been tested for integrity, and has no shelf life, Holmes added. Firefighters told the Freeholders that the special foam costs about twice as much as the conventional foam, or about $200 for a 5-gallon container.

The apparatus was acquired from Holland Township, N.J., who purchased the truck in case of fire at a nearby industrial site. When that industrial business shuttered permanently, Holland decided it no longer needed the truck. Mercer County, with help from the Fire Chiefs Association, was able to purchase the truck for $15,000. The truck has 11,826 miles on it and contains 500 gallons of alcohol-resistant foam worth about $15,000, according to Holmes. “I’m not sure how the county was able to acquire such a sweet deal, but the foam is actually worth more than the truck itself,” said Holmes.

The truck will be housed at Hamilton Fire District 3 in the Groveville section of Hamilton. Chief Tom Gribbon of District 3 said it makes sense to house the truck there because his station is first responder to any accident at Duck Island. The truck will be available to all of Mercer County and to assist with ethanol-fuel fires in surrounding counties. Firefighters from various companies around the county will receive training on how to attack an ethanol-based fire with this new apparatus and how to best use the special foam.

The truck will be insured and undergo minor maintenance by the county. Other ongoing operating costs, including foam replacement will be the responsibility of the fire service community.

A formal dedication ceremony will be held at a later date.