OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A plan is officially a go to help Ottawa County fire departments fight any chemical fires that come their way.

The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners last week approved using $125,000 in federal coronavirus relief funding to buy three foam-filled trailers uniquely designed to suppress chemical fires.

Chemical fires are much harder to put out than an average house fire, needing a special foam that starves the flames of fuel.

“Fire foam is so unique in that it literally smothers a chemical fire,” Ottawa County Commissioner Jacob Bonnema told News 8. “It puts it out almost immediately. It’s almost shocking how quickly it will address a fire.”

Fire departments across Michigan used to have the foam. But the material was discovered to have PFAS, the ‘forever chemical’ linked to cancer. The state took the PFAS foam away from fire departments in 2018 and 2019.

“There wasn’t really a good surrogate for PFAS foam until a while later,” Ottawa County Emergency Management Director Lou Hunt told News 8. “So we were left without that capability for quite a while here in Ottawa.”

“We were leaving our firefighters in a very defensive position if they were trying to fight a fire that involved petroleum, chemicals, alcohol, things like that,” Hunt continued.

After the catastrophic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, unleased hazardous materials into that community, Bonnema asked Hunt what Ottawa County fire departments need to contain a fire like that if it ever happens there. Turns out, they just needed the foam back. It was good timing because a nonPFAS alternative known as Chemguard non-fluorinated foam concentrate was on the market.

“Without those poisonous chemicals that were in the foam in years past, it’s going to keep our firefighters’ health safe as well,” Bonnema said.

They narrowed in on buying three trailers, each carrying 265 gallons of foam. The cannons project foam into chemical fires from a safe distance away. The trailers will be placed at Holand Charter Township Fire Department, Ferrysburg Fire Department and Allendale Fire Department. They will be strategically located near manufacturing sites.

“There’s some strategic need in those locations,” Bonnema said. “They’re closest to the places where we’re going to have potential issues that we need to respond to quickly.”

Bonnema also said three trailers being spread across the county can help fire departments cover more territory quickly.

“(They can) reach anywhere in the county in a matter of minutes,” Bonnema said, “versus one unit traveling from one place in the county and trying to get to the other side in half an hour, which is far too late for a dangerous fire like this.”

Two dozen fire chiefs unanimously backed the plan. In April, the board of commissioners approved the proposal, setting the process of finding a vendor in motion.

The group eventually settled on working with Fire Equipment Associates, a manufacturer based in Flushing, Michigan. The board finally approved the $125,000 for the plan on Sept. 5, allowing the group to purchase the three trailers.

“It’s critical we address these fires immediately and we get them put out as quickly as possible that even the pollution that comes off the fire doesn’t fall into our natural streams and waterways and pollute that as well,” Bonnema said.

The entire project costs $237,531. Local jurisdictions will pay for the rest of the cost and take care of the equipment.

The trailers will last at least 10 years. Hunt said they can last even longer with yearly testing.

The equipment is expected to be delivered in the next six months, Hunt said. He cited supply chain issues and aluminum shortages as reasons for the delay.

Hunt called it a “significant game-changer for Ottawa County.”

“I think that’s what our commissioners saw,” Hunt said. “This was a significant capability we needed to have in Ottawa County, so everybody got behind it.”