Last week on Thursday, I spoke at the Indiana Fire Chiefs Association‘s Indiana Emergency Response Conference. During my session, I discussed a grain elevator combustible dust explosion that occurred in Coshocton, Ohio a few weeks ago.
Then on Friday, another Ohio grain elevator suffered an explosion; this time occurring in Evendale, near Cincinnati. Initial reports stated that a lightning strike may have been the cause of this event, but later reports indicated that a belt or pulley may have overheated and ignited dust in the headhouse.
The fire chief in Evendale commented to news media a number of times, noting more than once the dangers involved with a grain elevator incident, based heavily on a good recognition of the potential for additional dust explosions.
Remember, the primary event in combustible dust explosions is not always an explosion. It could be anything that produces an “acoustic” event that rattles or vibrates a structure enough to dislodge dust. In the case of the initial Evendale reports, it is possible that a direct lightning strike and the resulting thunder could have produced enough vibration to suspend dust and create an explosive atmosphere. If fires are already burning within the structure, all that is required is for dust to be lofted into the air within a compartmented area, and an explosion is likely to result.
It is important to remember that any activity that occurs during suppression efforts that could dislodge or put dust into suspension could potentially create an additional explosion.
If you have properties within your response area that could present you with a combustible dust scenario, be sure you understand dust explosions and know precautions to take to keep you and your firefighters safe.