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BioUrja donates protective gear to Peoria Fire Department

Peoria Fire Department's Scott Venzon and Nate Rice try out a new protective suit donated by BioUrja.
Collin Schopp
The Peoria Fire Department's Scott Venzon and Nate Rice try out a new protective suit donated by BioUrja.

The Peoria Fire Department's hazardous materials team has some new tools in its arsenal.

On Wednesday, the BioUrja ethanol plant donated five new "proximity suits" to the department. The suits will allow firefighters to work closer to some of the hottest fires they battle.

"The outer layer is an aluminized material," said Division Chief of Fire Prevention Nate Rice. "What that does is that aluminized material reflects back those temperatures that you're going to absorb from the heat of a fire. So, with these particular flammable liquids, they put off temperatures in excess of 2,000 degrees."

He said typical firefighting gear is effective up to around 1,200 degrees, which is what the department encounters at most house fires.

The suits cost around $3,000 each. Interim Fire Chief Sean Sollberger said that makes them difficult to obtain for most fire departments.

"This is the type of purchase that you struggle with on a yearly basis," he said. "Then BioUrja just swooping in and making this purchase for us, allows our firefighters to be protected to go into these hazardous conditions.”

The donation is a result of more than six months of collaboration between department hazmat coordinator Scott Venzon and BioUrja.

Plant manager Mark Reznik said the suits likely wouldn't have been applicable to the fire that brought down silos and ignited grain bins in May.

"We want to be good citizens to the community. We obviously have some potential here, if we work hard today, to make sure that we don't need them here," said Reznik. "But if we do, we want them to be well equipped to support us."

Reznik said BioUrja is still investigating the cause of the fire, responsible for an estimated $2 million in damages, but plant operations are mostly back to normal.

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.