Josh Daugherty, a rural volunteer firefighter, didn’t know what to think when told that Valero, new owners of the ethanol plant in Bluffton, Indiana, wanted to send him to a world-renowned fire- training school at Texas A&M University.

“I about fell out of my chair,” he said, laughing. “I was ecstatic. We would not be able to afford these opportunities without the help Valero is providing.”

Daugherty, who works for a crop seed research company, was one of 28 firefighters – two serving each of Valero’s 14 ethanol plants – selected to attend the training, underscoring the company’s close relationship with outside emergency response personnel.

Some attending the training are Valero employees, most work in trades from farm services to law enforcement, but all serve with local municipal or volunteer fire departments. Valero’s petroleum refineries have emergency response teams. But while its much-smaller ethanol plants have employees trained in emergency response, local fire departments would assist in rare cases of serious emergencies.

“Our relationships with these local firefighters are critical, so that they will know how to respond to situations that could arise in industrial settings,” said George Shawver, Valero Director-Health, Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

“When I get back, I plan to set up some realistic training so, that way, I can pass on what I’ve learned here and make sure all my officers are on the same page,” said Mike Norman, fire chief for Riga Township in Michigan, and a full-time federal police officer. Valero bought ethanol plants in Bluffton and Riga, and Lakota, Iowa, in 2018.

Trainees practiced fighting fire on simulated but highly realistic industrial units at the school. An instructor drilled them to think several steps ahead, which he likened to playing chess as opposed to checkers.

“I’m grateful to be able to experience this,” Daugherty said. “I’ve learned an awful lot.”