The Saturday morning calm was broken at 9 a.m. by the voice of the Guthrie County Sheriff’s communications dispatcher:
“Menlo Fire — Menlo First Responders — Guthrie County EMS — There has been a chemical release of ethanol vapor in the distillation area at Flint Hills Resources at 3363 Talon Ave. Two workers in the distillation area are not responding to their radios.”
Happily, this was only a test, one of the periodic drills coordinated by Flint Hills Resources with the surrounding communities in order to test emergency preparedness procedures and keep the emergency-response systems well oiled, according to Todd Benton, plant manager at the Menlo facility.
“This was a drill,” Benton said as he and Menlo Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ben Gilman monitored the progress of the simulation exercise.
Safety is a concern to workers and the surrounding population when producing volatile materials. The Stuart and Menlo fire departments fought a real fire at the Flint Hills Resources facility in July 2015 that saw mutual-aid calls to fire departments in Adair and Dallas counties.
The incident eventually involved fire departments from Stuart, Menlo, Casey, Adair, Dexter, Panora, Greenfield and Guthrie Center.
The Menlo facility is one of seven Flint Hills Resources ethanol production plants that together produce 820 million gallons of ethanol annually.
The Menlo plant began operating in 2008 as Hawkeye Energy Holdings, a company owned by Iowa agriculture magnate Bruce L. Rastetter, who sold the company in 2010 to Flint Hills Resources LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries Inc.
The plant currently produces 315,000 gallons of liquid ethanol daily and about 120 million gallons yearly. The production process uses 42 million bushels of corn a year and produces 310,000 tons of dried distillers grains.
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