Why automatic fire suppression is critical to heavy equipment and vehicle safety
By Ed Chivers, Global Product and Certification Director, Reacton Fire Suppression
An automatic fire suppression system is a mechanical or electrical system that can detect and extinguish, or contain, a fire without having to rely on human intervention. In their simplest form, these systems have a means of detection, actuation and delivery. If a fire occurs, the fire suppression equipment detects the heat from the flames, automatically actuates the system and delivers an extinguishing agent straight into the heart of the fire. It takes only a few seconds for the fire to be detected and suppressed, thus saving lives, assets and businesses.
Every year in the UK alone, an average of £2,669 million is paid out by insurers for commercial vehicle claims1. And in the US, 8,760 industrial or agricultural vehicle fires occur2 annually, resulting in $225 million worth of property damage.
Despite these alarming figures, installation of fire suppression systems on heavy equipment and commercial vehicles is not a standard practice among manufacturers and fleet operators.
Some manufacturers offer automatic fire suppression as factory-fitted systems, but they are not prioritised as much as other add-on equipment such as lights, opening windows, ride control, and air conditioning.
Ed Chivers, Global Product and Certification Director, Reacton Fire Suppression.
With the global construction market forecast to grow by $8 trillion in the next ten years3, pay-outs by insurers and downtime for operators will increase unless fire suppression is taken seriously by the industry. This is possible only if there’s awareness about the necessity and different types of fire suppression systems and their compliance with fire safety standards.
Fire extinguishers, alone, won’t do the job
Giving firefighting responsibilities to vehicle operators or nearby personnel comes with some risks; the suppression of fire will depend on the competency of the person, his or her ability to determine the early stages of a fire and how to operate the fire protection device correctly. In some instances, a fire starts slowly in a confined area that may not be accessible, let alone visible. Even if the fire is detected promptly, the application of the correct fire protection device and choice of extinguishing medium is reliant on the person present at that time.
More commonly, such events erupt into a high load fire instantaneously, and the heat output and by-products of combustion make it almost impossible to get close enough to tackle the fire. To use a fire extinguisher, engine covers and panels would need to be removed to get access to the location of the fire, which would not safe while the fire intensity continues to increase.
All fire suppression systems are not equal
Just as no two fires are the same, not all fire suppression systems are equal. Choosing an inadequate suppression systems could have a catastrophic impact on business.
Assuming all fire suppression systems are the same would be similar to thinking all vehicle performance is equal, regardless of the make and model. It’s important to ensure that the system you choose is designed specifically for the asset it is protecting.
When selecting a fire suppression system, accreditations should do the talking. Make sure that the system you are considering has been rigorously tested to meet, or exceed, the demands of the environment and asset. A fire suppression system in heavy equipment and vehicles should be able to withstand extreme vibration, ageing and corrosion.
Understand fire safety standards and look for accreditations
Would you have peace of mind having a non-approved system protecting your operators, workforce and critical assets?
Many automatic fire suppression manufacturers and installers will advise their own design criteria, but for a system to really have any value it should be tested to internationally recognised standards.
A fully independent and accredited testing laboratory should be used to carry out testing and the test must be relevant to the application.
The testing criteria in these standards replicate what could be experienced in real life. Without it, you cannot guarantee the performance of a system and whether it will work in the conditions your vehicle may be subjected to.
Having an approved system to an internationally recognised standard such as P-Mark SPCR 199 (Fire suppression systems in engine compartments of heavy vehicles) means that you have made a commitment to providing a system of quality, safety and performance that can be proven. It also provides the benchmark for systems to be judged against, without this how can you be sure your system will work when it is called upon.
One extinguishing agent’s good, two is better
A dual agent system combines the rapid flame knockdown feature of dry powder and the cooling and blanketing properties of wet chemical (liquid system) to provide a more effective and economical solution than just one type of extinguishing medium.
When compared to a liquid based system, a dual agent system offers a 40% reduction in system size.
A dual agent system can repeatably score the highest rating on the SPCR 199 test. This need not require systems with large sizes or more nozzles; Reacton has achieved the highest ratings with only 8 kg of agent and 6 nozzles.
It is also important to note that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), in particular NFPA 122 - 184.108.40.206.1, state that hydraulic/diesel excavators with hydraulic systems above 567.8L (150 gal) should be fitted with dual agent fire suppression systems.