Public-private partnerships prove instrumental during Superior industrial fire

Graymont fire highlights the importance of the Superior Fire Department's public-private partnerships.

Superior firefighters battle an industrial blaze at Graymont in Superior with a Purple K gorilla tank unit Saturday, May 29, 2021. The equipment, purchased by Enbridge Energy through a public-private partnership, was a key tool in extinguishing the blaze. (Photo courtesy of Superior Fire Department)

A web of public-private partnerships built by the Superior Fire Department over nearly a decade played a key role in dousing an equipment fire at the Graymont lime plant late Saturday, May 29.

The call came in at 11:39 p.m. for a fire in a roughly 130-gallon oil pan for the gears that run production equipment. The oil pan is suspended high above the ground where a traditional blanket of foam wouldn't be effective — what firefighters call a "three-dimensional fire."

Using a tank of a dry-chemical agent known as Purple K, purchased by Enbridge Energy to help protect its facility during a fire, the fire department was able to effectively attack the blaze while keeping firefighters safe.

"On paper, Graymont and Enbridge have nothing in common," said Superior Fire Chief Scott Gordon, but the Purple K, targeted to carbon-based fires such as oil, crude or asphalt, was exactly the right tool for the job.

A liquid product such as foam wouldn't have worked on the 3D fire, and the Purple K gorilla unit had the pressure and range needed to reach the blaze, Gordon said. Firefighters extinguished the fire in two and a half hours; no injuries were reported. Gordon said the business was back in operation within 24 hours and didn't miss a delivery. The fire did an estimated $8,000 damage.



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"If that fire would have happened 12 years ago, I have no idea how we would have put it out," Gordon said.
Most municipal fire departments aren't called on to deal with these types of blazes, he said. They require different tactics and strategies.

"The reason we know how to fight these industrial fires is because of public-private training," the chief said.

Plains Midstream, Enbridge and Husky Energy (now Cenovus) have all funded annual industrial fire training for the department, in addition to purchasing tools to better fight a blaze at their facilities. This happens through public-private partnerships at no cost to taxpayers, Gordon said.

Enbridge purchased the Purple K gorilla unit in 2017 . The tank unit is stored in the outbuilding at the Superior Fire Department headquarters, available to use for any industrial fire.

Graymont was the first Superior business to enter a public-private partnership with the fire department in 2012, according to Gordon. The limestone plant purchased multiple positioning devices that shave minutes off high-elevation rescues. They have been used numerous times over the years, including at the grain elevators and Midwest Energy.

That partnership has come full circle, Gordon said. Just as equipment Graymont purchased has helped others, items provided by other businesses helped them.

"It just seems to me such a logical thing, to let the businesses, let the individual industry decide how they want their fire department to respond," Gordon said. "We're going to come no matter what, but if you want us to better protect your facility and do it safely, here's how you can help us.


"We're all in this for safety," he said.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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