Help! We’re on Fire!

Although over 280 fire incidents were reported at facilities in a the period referenced in the Fire Rover study*, many more were not because they were too small to get any news attention or shut down the facility.  A breakdown of fires by facility type is shown in the graphic to the right.

With an average of almost one a day in North America, it looks like facility fires are more common than we would like to admit. So what should we do about it other than “put them out right away”?

Plan for the worst

  • Start by asking yourself some tough questions. Can you handle a loss of your facility or key equipment? How will you receive and manage material after a serious incident? Do you have a strong contingency plan in place that covers alternatives for processing and receiving/storage? When was the last time you updated your contingency plans? Could a neighboring municipality temporarily handle your receiving/processing needs?
  • If you contract out your services, make sure you have a contingency clause in the contract and the contractor delivers a satisfactory contingency plan to you, in advance of commencing the work. The plan needs to explain how services will continue to be provided, at the same price, in the event of service disruption.
  • Have you got a plan for truck/trailer fires that all your drivers are familiar with? It’s almost always better to dump the load on a parking lot, preferably a municipally owned lot, and try to extinguish it there. Given a choice between bad outcomes, it’s usually cheaper to repair melted pavement than replace a collection vehicle worth hundreds of thousands.
  • Review fire suppression capability at each facility and decide if it’s critical enough to your operations to invest in more than the minimum hand extinguishers and smoke detectors. Other fire detection/suppression systems and devices are available such as infrared heat detectors, automatic water cannons, continuous air sampling devices, sprinklers, foam dispensers, etc.

Better practices for fire control 

  • Training your staff on evacuation and extinguisher procedures can save lives and property. A basic fire extinguisher is much more effective in the hands of someone who has received training. Workers also need to know when they should call for professional help. Ask your local fire department for assistance with the training, they are usually happy to oblige for little or no cost.
  • Sometimes a few minutes is all that separates a controlled fire from a total loss. Have a clear chain of command in place so local fire officials can better direct any available staff and equipment to fight the fire.
  • Place fire extinguishers in all vehicles on site, not just large equipment.
  • Park loaders and other equipment outside and away from facilities when they are unstaffed. If the building/bins/piles are burning, that equipment can be used to move material around to stop the fire from spreading or bring dirt to smother it.
  • Keep facilities clean, especially material push walls and dust collection areas. Dry, dusty material is a great source of fuel for fires and catches easily so keep it off your list of flammable things present in your facility.
  • Don’t line up all your equipment in a single tight row. This is especially true of same type trucks. You may be able to rent a few rear loaders to replace burnt ones, but can you rent an entire automated collection fleet lost because they were parked side by side? It takes many months to have new trucks built and delivered.
  • Communicate with your local authorities in advance. Firefighters need to know the placement of gas valves, flammables, hazardous materials, solvents, paints etc. stored on site which will affect their methods of attacking the fire. Updated site maps must be readily available and supplied in advance to the local authorities so they can plan while on-route to your facility.

Contact CIF Staff

CIF staff is always ready to help. We encourage you to contact any member of the team to discuss your issues and questions.

*also reported in Recycling Today, March 29, 2017