Four Things to Consider Before Buying a Vehicle Fire Suppression System – as featured in SWANA “Talking Trash”

 

As featured in SWANA Florida's Summer 2017 edition of Talking Trash.

 

Four Things to Consider Before Buying a Vehicle Fire Suppression System

Fire puts operators in danger, leads to costly machine repairs or replacement, and lost productivity due to downtime. The vehicle fire suppression industry is based on these simple facts, but how do you choose the best solution for your unique needs?

The following considerations are a good starting point for anyone looking to protect heavy equipment.

  1. Side-cartridge vs. pressurized tanks

Pressurized tanks are filled with propellant, similar to fire extinguishers like you may have at home. In situations where the physical demands on a vehicle are minimal, this type of system is sufficient. They are common in public transportation, as an example.

On the other hand, a side-cartridge system contains the propellant in separate, sealed cartridges. This type of system is generally preferred on equipment used in heavy industries like waste and mining where machine vibration can cause pressurized tanks to leak over time.

  1. Manual actuation vs. automatic actuation

Automatic systems use a detection circuit to monitor temperatures and discharge the system when a fire is detected. These systems do not rely on an operator, and provide a quick response time even if the fire occurs out of sight.

Manual systems require the operator to discharge them. They do not include a detection network, and are therefore less costly than automatic systems. As a result, they are popular on smaller pieces of equipment.

  1. Firefighting agent type

The most commonly used agent is A:B:C dry chemical, a multi-purpose agent that protects against debris, fuel, and electrical fires. Dry chemical provides fast flame knockdown, space efficiency, and suppresses fire in 3D space, making it especially effective in enclosed areas like engine compartments.

A:B liquid agent has recently gained popularity in light of Tier 4 engines. In addition to debris and fuel fire protection, its cooling properties reduce engine surface temperatures and reduce the chances of a fire reflash.

Dual agent systems use both agents together to maximize protection by focusing on the strengths of each agent.

  1. Certifications

Certifications by third-party testing organizations are the best way to confirm that a system is built for withstanding the conditions of your working environment. For example, systems certified for off-road use by Factory Mutual are subject to shock and vibration testing to simulate years in the field. Other systems may not have passed this critical test so it’s important to clarify with a potential vendor which specific certifications have been earned, and ensure that the system is certified for off-road use.

No matter the machine’s application, having a fire suppression system on board is critical. They protect operators and work environments from the threat of fire, help you avoid costly equipment replacement, and protect your bottom line from financial losses. By doing your due diligence you can identify the right system for you.

 

Fire Suppression Systems in the Oil & Gas Industry

Fire is the worst thing that can happen to an oil & natural gas collection site. All the time, effort and resources dedicated to a well pad can literally go up in smoke in minutes, as was the case recently in Monroe County, Ohio. In this instance there were thankfully no injuries, but there was a total loss of surface equipment (which estimates put at tens of millions), a temporary evacuation of local residents, and a fish kill in a nearby creek that is being investigated for ties to the fire. Thus far the Environmental Protection Agency, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resource have been involved in the investigation process.

The fire at the Eisenbarth property was so hot that first responders had to fall back and allow the flames to die down before they could mount a successful firefighting effort. Clearly, site personnel were not able to fight the fire themselves. Even if they could have maneuvered into position quickly enough, which is questionable, they would not have had enough firefighting agent on hand with only handheld portable extinguishers at their disposal. (Once the fire became established, tankers filled with water from a nearby river had to be brought to the site in support.) But even if they had the resources, the dangerous nature of a congested fracking spread makes it inadvisable for anyone other than a trained, professional fire fighter to make the attempt. Fortunately, the wells themselves were not involved in this instance. Had they been, the entire situation likely would have been far worse, as other thermal events over the years have shown. Even so, with just the surface equipment involved, eight regional fire departments were needed to fight the conflagration.

The well’s operating company has stated on its website that the fire was caused by a “mechanical problem with hydraulic tubing.” This explanation strongly suggests that it was the result of a compromised hydraulic fluid line spraying atomized liquid onto a hot machine surface. This is known to be the single most common cause of fires on mobile heavy equipment within the mining industry, which utilizes engines of similar type and size as those used on hydraulic fracturing equipment. This sort of fire is not at all unusual in mining, which is a major reason why the industry embraced the use of vehicle fire suppression systems over 20 years ago.

A vehicle fire suppression system is a pre-engineered safety accessory that is permanently mounted to a piece of mobile equipment. Its sensors automatically actuate the system whenever temperatures are reached indicating fire; its nozzles are positioned to attack fires at their most common starting points. This means that the vehicle is protected at all times, whether supervised or not, which is important when considering the long hours that industrial equipment is typically run. Advanced systems are designed for remote controlled firing. This is a desirable feature due to the tight quarters typical of a site being hydraulically fractured as it keeps personnel from having to move towards a burning vehicle to actuate the manual override on the system.

Once a system is activated, the machine’s engine can be set to automatically shut down. This keeps additional fluids from being pumped onto the fire, as well as stops any cooling fans, which otherwise might encourage a blaze. This is a critical step in suppressing a vehicle fire.

Generally, vehicle fire suppression is designed to combat a fire as quickly as possible. Accordingly, the material most commonly used in systems is an A:B:C: dry chemical powder that features a very fast knockdown, which essentially chokes the fire before it can become fully engaged. In addition, a liquid fire-fighting agent can be used which will cool hot surfaces as well as suppress flame. This significantly reduces the risk of a fire reflashing. A dual agent system that uses both dry and liquid agents is appropriate for a hydraulic fracturing application since these vehicles have very large engines with many hot surfaces and large volumes of highly flammable liquids and materials.

Other considerations include that the system used be robust and purpose-built for heavy equipment, and that its manufacturer be experienced with demanding work environments. Take public transportation buses as an example. They use fire suppression systems, but the light duty products appropriate for them are not rugged enough to withstand the rigors of long hours of operation at high temperatures, constant vibration and significant flexing and twisting of the platform. These factors all impact a fire suppression system’s components over time, which is why they need to be as sturdy as possible.

Other industries besides mining have fully embraced rugged vehicle systems as well, going back 50 years to when the technology got its start. The forestry and solid waste industries are traditional users, as are the military, paper mills and steel mills. Also protected are chippers and grinders in the wood processing arena, which are the closest match to fracking trucks since they have similar chassis and utilize very large, powerful engines that run hot.

Within the oil and gas industry, fire suppression on offshore rigs is known to be serious business. But this attitude towards land-based mobile equipment, despite all the known risks, for some reason has yet to be widely adopted. However, there is a growing sense across the industry that this is about to change as OEM’s and end users alike are engaging in conversations about the value of vehicle fire suppression systems. Incidents like the one referenced above are understandably accelerating the process.

The downside of fracking equipment fires is so severe that all stakeholders surely must agree that doing everything possible to mitigate them is desirable. Besides the exceedingly high cost of replacing burned equipment, there is the loss of profits from the lost fleet to consider. And a service provider must take into account the potential impact any fires will have on its ability to secure future business.

Whether it be in actual dollars spent or in the form of damage done to a company’s reputation, crisis management has significant costs also. This past February, when a company provided free pizza vouchers to those impacted by its four-day-long well fire near Bobtown, Pennsylvania, the overall reaction was largely one of derision. This obviously was not the intention of the outreach program, but there are bound to be negative responses to any public relations campaigns, no matter how well-meaning, in a climate which has such a vocal anti-fracking contingent. Prevention is therefore the best proactive strategy when managing such a volatile topic in the court of public opinion.

Safeguarding personnel and the environment, protecting investments made in expensive machines, and keeping profits flowing are all valid reasons for investing in fire suppression systems. On top of these, mitigating bad publicity is another factor to consider. And finally, as an industry under the microscope of constant scrutiny, where the slightest slip-up is amplified, no company wants to be in the position where it could be accused of having been able to do more to avert a tragedy. With so much at stake, it would seem that this reason alone is all that would be needed for most concerned organizations to take a hard look at vehicle fire suppression systems.

The Impact of Autonomous and Remote-Controlled Off-Road Equipment On Fire Suppression

The advent of unmanned equipment in heavy industries has arrived, and so manufacturers of fire suppression systems need to address how this impacts the type of coverage these units receive. Whether a machine is used in mining, timber, recycling or some other niche, this new (and growing) paradigm requires a modified approach when it comes to fire protection.

Because the human factor is largely being removed from the firefighting equation as a result of this conversion process, the opportunities for an in cab operator to identify a fire and manually actuate a fire suppression system on the vehicle itself are all but gone. Fortunately, fire liability is not drastically increased by going the unmanned route, assuming those responsible for overseeing the vehicles have the ability to actuate the system from a distance.

At the moment not every fire suppression system is remote actuation ready, which is one of the main aspects of protection that will have to change. In keeping with a long-standing position at the technological forefront of its industry, AFEX Fire Suppression Systems incorporated the necessary advancements to its Control Unit over two years ago. As a result, remote actuation of an AFEX fire suppression system is as simple as pushing a button. Another benefit of the Control Unit’s advanced nature is its ability to tie-in with existing telematics, allowing for enhanced fire suppression system monitoring.

Of course this new reality also puts more of a premium on the use of automatic systems that self-actuate once sensors have determined a spike in temperature indicative of a fire. These types of systems have the advantage of being “on guard” at all times, monitoring those areas of the machine that are difficult to see, like the inside of an engine compartment. This fact would be equally helpful whether the scale of the operation is a fleet of autonomous haul trucks or a single, remote-controlled grinder.

Ultimately, the transition to unmanned vehicles will bring about a new look to the average fire suppression system. Remote actuation will need to become a default, allowing a remote machine supervisor to react to a fire immediately upon identification, while at the same time automatic systems will become necessary to account for the lack of an onboard operator. Identifying and understanding these basic truths has allowed AFEX Fire Suppression Systems to prepare for the job of protecting the next generation of heavy equipment.

Side-Cartridge vs. Stored Pressure

  1. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STORED PRESSURE AND SIDE CARTRIDGE OPERATED EXTINGUISHERS?

Stored pressure extinguishers have the compressed nitrogen gas that is used as the propellant for the dry chemical agent stored in the same canister as the dry chemical. Side cartridge operated units store the dry chemical in a non-pressurized container and the compressed nitrogen gas in a separate cartridge. Only at the time of actuation is the extinguisher under pressure and then only briefly.

  1. DOES THE A:B:C DRY CHEMICAL COMPACT IN EITHER OF THEM?

Settling and compaction are common to both stored pressure and side cartridge operated extinguishers when they are installed on vehicles. This is a result of the vibration inherent to that application. Side Cartridge units are designed to fluff the powder before discharge. The gas passes through perforations in the gas tube, breaking up and fluffing the powder before discharge.

  1. DOESN’T A STORED PRESSURE EXTINGUISHER KEEP THE DRY CHEMICAL IN SUSPENSION?

No. The specific gravity of nitrogen is .97 and the specific gravity of A:B:C powder is 1.8. In an extinguisher, these materials will settle according to their specific gravity, with the heaviest settling to the bottom. As the A:B:C powder is heavier than the nitrogen gas, such a mixture will not stay in suspension.

  1. IF THE POWDER COMPACTS, HOW DOES THIS AFFECT THE DISCHARGE OF THE EXTINGUISHER?

In side cartridge operated extinguishers the nitrogen gas is introduced to the extinguisher through a tube with gas escape ports designed to break up and fluidize the dry chemical before it is forced out the extinguisher to the distribution network. Stored pressure units depend upon the downward pressure of the nitrogen gas to force the compacted powder back up a siphon tube and out

  1. HOW ARE THESE EXTINGUISHERS INSPECTED? DOES THE INSPECTION REQUIRE SPECIAL EQUIPMENT?

The National Fire Protection Association, in its Standard No. 17, the Standard for Dry Chemical Extinguishing Systems, outlines the monthly and semi-annual inspection requirements for both stored pressure and side cartridge operated systems.

Stored pressure extinguishers must be de-pressurized, the valve assemblies rebuilt and the dry chemical removed and replaced every six years. No other inspections are required to determine if the dry chemical has been contaminated, is clumped, or if the siphon tube has been damaged. Because special equipment is required to perform this service, the extinguisher must be removed from the installation and taken to a service facility. The dry chemical in side cartridge operated units is to be inspected every six months. This can be done quickly on site by simply removing the extinguisher cap. The Dry Chemical needs to be replaced only if it is clumped or shows evidence of moisture.

  1. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE A GAUGE ON THE EXTINGUISHER? ARE THEY RELIABLE?

Pressure gauges are used on stored pressure units to indicate if they are properly charged. However, experience has shown that those gauges are not reliable indicators of the working condition of the extinguisher. These inexpensive gauges are known to have the pointer stick to the lens of the gauge and to have the bordon tube (which controls the movement of the indicator needle) take a memory set and cause the needle not to move. The accuracy of these gauges is reflective of their cost – less than $1 each. Relying on these gauges to indicate the readiness of the system, or even just the extinguisher, would be risky.

The working condition of a fire suppression system cannot be revealed simply by the status of a pressure gauge. The condition of the actuation hose, the condition of the sensors and detection system, and the condition of the distribution system are key issues as well. There is no substitute for a thorough examination of the system on a regular periodic basis for assessing its readiness.

  1. HOW LIKELY IS IT THAT THE NITROGEN WILL LEAK OUT OF EACH TYPE OF UNIT?

Stored pressure extinguishers depend upon rubber “O” rings on the valve stem and in the valve assembly to seal the compressed nitrogen gas in the extinguisher. These “O” rings can be deformed by vibration or improper installation, allowing the pressure to leak. These units have

a vent check on the control head whose purpose is to bleed off any pressure that can cause the control head to pre-maturely discharge the agent cylinder. Pressure gauges are installed on stored pressure units to monitor the rate of leakage. Side cartridge units are “sealed for life” with a bronze disc. These units need only to be weighed to verify they are properly filled.

  1. HOW DO I DECIDE WHICH IS BETTER FOR MY APPLICATION?

The difference between side cartridge and stored pressure extinguishers is found in more than just their design. Each type will do well when used in the right application and in the right environment. The secret is knowing when and where to use each type. The state of the art side cartridge units are preferred industry wide in the heavy mobile equipment market for the following reasons:

  • heavy duty construction,
  • simple design eliminates failure points,
  • easily serviced on-site,
  • low maintenance,
  • no special tools required,
  • 50 years of vehicle fire protection.

Stored pressure units share their niche with side cartridge operated units as hand held portable extinguishers, and in stationary situations such as protecting restaurant range hoods and electrical switching stations.

The Impact of Autonomous and Remote-Controlled Off-Road Equipment On Fire Suppression

The advent of unmanned equipment in heavy industries has arrived, and so manufacturers of fire suppression systems need to address how this impacts the type of coverage these units receive. Whether a machine is used in mining, timber, recycling or some other niche, this new (and growing) paradigm requires a modified approach when it comes to fire protection.

Because the human factor is largely being removed from the firefighting equation as a result of this conversion process, the opportunities for an in cab operator to identify a fire and manually actuate a fire suppression system on the vehicle itself are all but gone. Fortunately, fire liability is not drastically increased by going the unmanned route, assuming those responsible for overseeing the vehicles have the ability to actuate the system from a distance.

At the moment not every fire suppression system is remote actuation ready, which is one of the main aspects of protection that will have to change. In keeping with a long-standing position at the technological forefront of its industry, AFEX Fire Suppression Systems incorporated the necessary advancements to its Control Unit over two years ago. As a result, remote actuation of an AFEX fire suppression system is as simple as pushing a button. Another benefit of the Control Unit’s advanced nature is its ability to tie-in with existing telematics, allowing for enhanced fire suppression system monitoring.

Of course this new reality also puts more of a premium on the use of automatic systems that self-actuate once sensors have determined a spike in temperature indicative of a fire. These types of systems have the advantage of being “on guard” at all times, monitoring those areas of the machine that are difficult to see, like the inside of an engine compartment. This fact would be equally helpful whether the scale of the operation is a fleet of autonomous haul trucks or a single, remote-controlled grinder.

Ultimately, the transition to unmanned vehicles will bring about a new look to the average fire suppression system. Remote actuation will need to become a default, allowing a remote machine supervisor to react to a fire immediately upon identification, while at the same time automatic systems will become necessary to account for the lack of an onboard operator. Identifying and understanding these basic truths has allowed AFEX Fire Suppression Systems to prepare for the job of protecting the next generation of heavy equipment.

AFEX Referenced As Industry Experts on Vehicle Fire Protection in Heavy Industry Trade Publication

Tom Jackson of Equipment World magazine wrote a great piece for the March edition about reducing machine fire risk which features a call out section about vehicle fire suppression systems. Quoted in the article is AFEX VP, Mr. Rod Cavallaro, who speaks to the state of the industry in general and how AFEX is always looking ahead to account for industry advancements and trends.

Read the article here.

Fire Suppression Systems Reduce Risk

As published in The American Oil & Gas Reporter magazine.

From North Dakota to Ohio to Louisiana and Texas, wherever hydraulic fracturing is being done there have been fire incidents over the years which have resulted in total surface equipment loss. The bottom line cost of such “thermal events” is generally in the tens of millions, which is to say nothing of productivity losses and any associated public relations damage done to the affected stakeholders. All things considered, adding fire suppression systems to at-risk machinery is a safe and cost effective solution to this potentially devastating problem.

A vehicle fire suppression system is a safety accessory that is mounted on a piece of machinery, such as a pump or blender, to protect it in the event of a fire. Comprised of tanks filled with fire-fighting agent, fire-detecting sensors, and a distribution network of tubes, hoses and nozzles, it is permanently affixed to the machine. In the oil & gas industry, these systems are appropriate for use on the vehicles used in hydraulic fracturing and on any diesel generators used on site.

A fire suppression system stands ready to discharge whenever needed, its nozzles aimed at the most at-risk parts of the machine. Commonly protected areas of a vehicle include turbochargers, starters, fuel filters, batteries, alternators, and transmissions. Sensors, which are activated once operating temperatures exceed predetermined maximums, are placed around these key areas to guard them. The nonstop protection this provides is beneficial since it is right at the point where fire is likely to start, which means operators don’t have to approach a fire should one erupt. This is especially important on a well pad being fracked since the pumps are parked so close to one another and minimal physical access is a complicating safety issue. Ultimately, fire suppression systems make for a safer job site as a result.

A system discharge is the result of either sensors sending an alarm mode to the control panel, which then automatically releases nitrogen to push the agent through the distribution tubing and out of the nozzles onto the protected areas, or as the result of a manual, physical release of the nitrogen which starts that same process. The agent will then knock down the flames and keep the fire from becoming established.

It is critical that a system with an appropriate amount of ruggedness is used in any given circumstance so that it stands up to the demands of the working environment and so that it is ready whenever it is needed. A system geared towards use on-road on a passenger bus, for example, would be much smaller and less robust than one tough enough for the physically abusive environment that is typical of a well that is being hydraulically fractured.

Where To Use
The use of fire suppression systems to protect heavy equipment is a well-established standard within a number of industries, including mining, wood processing, and waste management. The main reasons for their use is the protection of personnel and vehicles, but the work environment itself is also indirectly protected through the use of these systems, whether it be an underground coal mine, a forest or a landfill. By extension, fire suppression systems are productivity tools which save money, as reduced downtime equates with more hours worked and more profits generated.

These industries have chosen to utilize onboard fire suppression systems because, on balance, the investment made in them is justified versus the risk of going without. There is no reason why the same could not be said of the hydraulic fracturing industry. It is worth noting that in certain other instances use of fire suppression systems is required by insurance companies in order to receive a policy since it helps them to mitigate the risk of having to pay out for total losses.

Due to the fact that frac pumps are so close to each other when working at a well pad, the risk of one machine catching fire and spreading to the surrounding machines as a result is real. Considering that the most common cause of vehicle fires is a ruptured hydraulic line spraying fluid onto hot engine surfaces, the constant vibrations of the equipment used in fracking makes for an especially risky environment. The point being that the investment made in just one saved machine can ultimately pay for fleets’ worth of protection many times over, especially when compared with the replacement cost of multiple machines.

The Right System
Anyone familiar with a frac site knows that the vehicles are working as hard and as long as any equipment in heavy industry. With all the twisting, flexing and vibrations of the machine chassis, there is no question that a fire suppression system needs to be as rugged as possible to stand up to the rigors. When deciding on a fire suppression system, durability and reliability are always important factors to consider. There are a number of key characteristics which account for these, including: agent tank variety; tubing/hosing; electronics; and the agent itself.

Agent tanks can be one of two types: stored-pressure or side cartridge. In a stored-pressure variety the nitrogen that would power the agent through the distribution network is contained in the same tank as the agent itself. This design of tank is more likely to leak and lose pressure over time. Considering the constant vibration of a hydraulic fracturing vehicle this type is an impractical choice versus the side cartridge variety, which holds the nitrogen in a separate, leak-proof container. This is why side cartridge operated systems are the standard in mining.

Tubing made of stainless steel makes for a very rugged distribution network. Some amount of rubber hose will invariably be used in a system, but the less of it there is, the less there will be to replace over time due to regular wear and tear. Not only is the stainless steel tubing more resistant to the chemicals which might come into contact with the system, it will not dry rot like hose, meaning it likely won’t ever need to be replaced. This reduces maintenance costs over time.

A control panel is the central electronic brain of the system. These components monitor the detection network and activate the system when an alarm goes off. The more technically advanced ones provide a log which can be used for tracking system activity. Remote actuation may be incorporated as well so that control vehicle personnel can activate the system from a distance. It is telematics compatible and can be used to power horn strobes to alert operators to a system discharge, a suitable accessory for a loud environment.

As for the agent itself, there are two kinds: a dry chemical A:B:C powder and an A:B liquid. The dry chemical used in a vehicle suppression system is proven by decades of application in the heavy industries. Very similar to the material found in handheld portable extinguishers, it works very quickly at knocking down and suppressing a fire. It is suitable for use on debris fires (A), fuel fires (B), and electrical fires (C). The liquid agent comes out of the nozzles and foams to an extent, creating a film coating across the surfaces it is sprayed on. It also provides a cooling effect to lower surface temperatures in addition to suppressing the flames themselves.

These agent types can be used independently of one another, but when protecting a frac pump, a dual agent system is best because it takes advantage of the benefits of each. This makes for a more efficient system than either type alone can create since it will work quickly and guard against a reflash fire that is the result of hot surfaces causing a reignition.

Operational Options
Besides its physical properties, there are a number of operational options to be considered when evaluating the configuration of a fire suppression system. One of the most basic distinctions is the difference between an automatic system, which has a network of sensors that actuate the system when tripped by excessive temperatures, and a manual-only system, which depends on a physical input from an individual for actuation. The difference between the two does not impact the amount of fire-fighting agent that would be utilized by the system, but it can significantly impact the time between a fire breaking out and when the system actuates.

Responding to a fire as quickly as possible is preferable in all cases, so the manufacturer’s recommendation typically will be that an automatic system be utilized. Considering a fracking spread is congested, with numerous machines obscuring the on-site personnel’s ability to observe a fire early on, a detection network would be highly advisable.

Another system feature which is prudent to take advantage of is engine shutdown. When a fire breaks out on a vehicle, it most often involves the spraying of a fluid onto a hot surface. Should the engine continue to run, the hydraulic line which has been damaged will remain pressurized, causing it to continually pump fuel onto the fire. Any cooling fans might also contribute to a fire’s growth, so shutting them down is also important. Having the fire suppression system shut off the engine is a critical way it can help keep a small fire small, which is why the feature is taken advantage of more often than not.

Hydraulic fracturing equipment operates in an extremely abusive environment where vehicle fires are quite literally an accident waiting to happen. Waiting until a fire breaks out to contend with it with portable fire extinguishers alone is to gamble that the fire won’t become fully involved and spread before it can be fought. With so much at stake from safety and financial perspectives, this is clearly not a chance worth taking. Rugged, heavy-duty fire suppression systems go a long way towards accounting for the threat of vehicle fires at well pads by being the first line of defense, and the companies that utilize them will be safer than ever before as a result.

TELEMATICS: When Do You Want To Know Your Machine Is On Fire?

As published in Heavy Equipment Guide magazine.

Because fire by nature is unpredictable, proactive companies choose to invest in fire suppression systems for their fleets of mobile heavy equipment. But at any given moment it is difficult to know if these systems in the field are fully functional, ready to protect your assets. Fortunately, that is about to change.

You can now have your fire suppression system’s status provided in real time on any computer, or on a smartphone for monitoring outside of the office.

At AFEX, we anticipated the opportunity to provide users with up-to-the-minute information about their fire suppression systems, an insight which led us to develop ours to interface with telematics. As a result, the same dispatch system used to monitor machine hours, downtime, and fuel economy can now also conveniently provide our customers with real time updates. Whether it is factory installed telematics, such as CAT® Product Link™, or a third party system used to unify mixed fleets, an AFEX fire suppression system can be tied in to provide vital information on its status. For example, if a system goes offline due to damage or tampering, alerts can be issued to key personnel instantaneously.

Once integrated, the dispatch system can notify the asset manager whenever a fire occurs without need of the operator’s involvement. The exact location of the machine at the time of the fire, the engine status and fire system response are all documented and subsequently relayed out within seconds as well. Additionally, if an operator manually activates the system, the event can be communicated and logged. In fact, when the system activates for any reason the manager and maintenance provider will know immediately. As an added benefit, connected fire systems can be configured for remote actuation. This feature in particular will become increasingly valuable as unmanned equipment becomes more popular.

With telematics, service providers can give regular maintenance alerts to operators, allowing for a more precise maintenance schedule and better service.

Knowing when and why maintenance needs to occur allows a fleet manager to manage resources more effectively. This is critical information when it comes to asset management, and with the help of telematics it can be provided at the same speed as today’s fast paced world of business. Providing accountability and a reliable event timeline also allows managers to properly evaluate the root cause and/or actions that led to the fire, as well as post-fire activity. And as anyone in the asset protection business knows, fast, pinpoint knowledge of a gap in protection can mean the difference between a few hours of maintenance and a total loss.

When maximizing productivity is the goal, equipment efficiency is the key.

As machines become more technologically advanced, AFEX continues to keep pace, capitalizing on the opportunity to increase the effectiveness of its fire suppression system’s communication capabilities. Our end users benefit since equipment service is done more promptly, which means the amount of time and money dedicated to upkeep is reduced. For more information, contact AFEX directly at 1-800-231-3436.

Choosing the Right Fire Suppression System

There is no one size fits all solution for fire protection. When choosing your fire suppression system, consider the unique hazards of your machine. AFEX offers dry chemical, liquid agent, and dual agent fire suppression systems in a variety of sizes and configurations to meet your needs. To determine the appropriate type of system to utilize, the first step is to conduct a "Fire Risk Assessment" of the machine to be protected and the environment in which it will be operating. This evaluation should include such considerations as the physical size of the machine, the engine horsepower and the volume of hydraulics. The potential for debris to accumulate also is a key factor when it comes to designing a system. Whether the engine is a TIER 4 or not can also impact the choice of protection type and system size.

Overall, AFEX has found that dual agent systems, combining the benefits of dry chemical with the benefits of liquid agent, are the most effective way to address most risks. Dual agent systems are so effective that the National Fire Protection Agency requires them for large hydraulic shovels. Not only are they more effective, dual agent systems require less space and are more economical than a comparable liquid-only system for the same machine.

To learn more, or to get the help of an AFEX Specialist to determine a specific system configuration, call us at (919) 781-6610 or use the contact form below.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

DOES AFEX OFFER LIQUID-ONLY FIRE SUPPRESSION SYSTEMS?

Yes. AFEX offers liquid-only fire suppression systems that have been tested and approved by Factory
Mutual (FM) and provide Australian Standard 5062 (AS 5062) compliant fire suppression abilities.

DOES DRY CHEMICAL OR LIQUID AGENT PROVIDE THE BEST PROTECTION?

It depends. Dry chemical and liquid agent should each be considered for their unique benefits. Dry chemical floods an entire enclosure, is effective against debris, fuel, and electrical fires, and provides unparalleled fire knockdown speed, making it especially well suited for protecting vehicle engine, transmission, and hydraulic pump compartments. Liquid agent provides an extended, cooling, discharge for a targeted area, making it the top choice for protecting specific high risk vehicle components such as turbochargers, exhaust components, and Tier 4 aftertreatment components or for penetrating areas with debris build up. Dual agent systems combine the most desirable qualities of both dry chemical and liquid agent and will provide the best overall protection for most applications.

ARE LIQUID-ONLY SYSTEMS AS EFFECTIVE AS DRY CHEMICAL SYSTEMS?

They can be, if you use enough agent. However, it is a common misconception that they are also more efficient than dry chemical systems. Because liquid agent does not flood an enclosed space, more nozzles are required to protect a similar size compartment, and even then the overall coverage cannot accurately be compared to the total-flooding of a dry chemical system. These additional nozzles result in a more complex distribution network, which adds to the required system installation time.
liquid-only dimensions dual agent dimensions
Liquid agent tanks also provide fewer nozzles per tank than a dry chemical tank of the same size. For example, a 60 pound dry chemical tank provides up to 12 nozzles, whereas a 5 gallon liquid agent tank (which has the same physical dimensions) only provides 4 nozzles. Therefore, in order to provide the same coverage as dry chemical or dual agent systems, liquid-only systems would require more and/or larger tanks, increasing the required space on the machine. Ultimately this results in liquid-only systems that are heavier, occupy a larger footprint, require greater installation times, and cost more than a comparable dry chemical or dual agent system.

Hey Grinder Guy, Are These Fire Suppression Systems Worth The Money?

As printed in the December 2013 issue of WHEN (Waste Handling Equipment News)

By Dave Whitelaw
Well, it’s not like you are putting a sprinkler system in your house to protect your family, but for most guys, your grinder is your lifeline. If it doesn’t work, neither do you. I personally have not had any installed on my equipment, but the comments I have heard through the years are:  They are expensive…..They leak…… They are in the way.

Fire Suppression systems are becoming more and more common due to the mandates in mines, above ground and below, along with some insurance companies requiring systems on insured machinery. In addition, with the increased pressures and complexity of hydraulics and the advent of Tier IV engines and their associated excess heat, fires could potentially increase.

So for real facts, I spoke with Kenneth Daniels of AFEX Fire Suppression Systems. AFEX call themselves the heavy equipment experts because that it is all they service, heavy equipment. AFEX is in most major mines in the world, have CAT® endorsed products and have their systems engineered into some John Deere® products. Without giving me the AFEX sales pitch, he explained why I had heard the complaints I have heard in the past-

Price- A sufficiently sized and installed system depends on the size, horsepower and hydraulics of the machine. The more of each, the larger the system. This is not a one size fits all industry. Stationary, not just mobile equipment can also catch fire. While the machine loss may be an issue, the building it is inside, the mulch pile it is next to, and the landfill that is on, can be the greater issue that can cost you your business. Think about what equipment is the most critical to your business and what would happen if it caught fire and what would be the collateral damage associated with it. It is possible that your insurance rates can be reduced with this type of protection. Check with your carrier.

They Leak- Some systems are pressurized, which means the tanks contain both the propellant and the agent, like the fire extinguisher that hangs on the wall in your office. Over time they have the possibility for pressure to leak out because of the significant vibrations these machines have, which can keep the system from discharging fully or at all. This is a maintenance item that needs to be monitored on a daily basis. Concerned? Look at a differently designed side cartridge operated system that uses a sealed, pressurized nitrogen cylinders separate from the agent tanks so that leaking won't be an issue. Get a more detailed description from your Fire Suppression Supply Company.

They are in the way- Some manufacturers have predesigned systems, such as the John Deere® Feller Bunchers, but most systems are designed in the office and installed on site. Because these are aftermarket installations, the sensors and the spray nozzles need to be where the potential fire hazard could be. It’s rather easy to remove some stainless steel tubing, like AFEX uses, and make your repairs or do your service.

What does a basic system consist of and how does it work?
•  Dealer sends machine drawings to Manufacturer or Distributor for a “Fire Risk Assessment” to determine Protection, Distribution and Discharge configuration. They also determine the type of agent required for the risk.
•  Size, the amount of agent required, is determined by the size of the machine, the horsepower and hydraulic system size and pressures. Dealer installs engineered routing of steel tubing or hydraulic hoses, sensors and spray nozzles and storage tanks. Agent storage tanks are installed in an area with enough space and away from potential damage. Space for these tanks can be an issue.
•  Then manual switches are installed so an operator can activate the system at the first sign of trouble.
•  Sensors, set at approximately 300 degrees, are activated by heat or fire. The sensors trigger the tanks to open. The spray nozzles send the agent to the predetermined areas and continually spray until the tanks are empty. Liquid systems take much more material to cover compared to dry chemical. So you need much more space for storage tanks of liquid than dry chemical.

What you need to know:
•  With all the electronics and hybrid machines today, “Liquid Only” is not a good option in most cases. Dry chemical will cover class A, B and C  fires. Combustables, Fuel and Electrical respectively. Dual  systems are possible also and perform to the strengths of each agent.
•  A Side Cartridge System has a nitrogen tank which is activated by the temperature sensors, which then activates the agent tanks. In AFEX systems, they use of stainless steel tubing which adds to the strength, rigidity and  longevity of the overall system. This makes the system much more user friendly because the lines are much easier to remove for maintenance and repair.

A Fire Suppression System does not mean daily housekeeping is not necessary. Most fires start within an hour of being shut down and most are from the lack of housekeeping . These systems can only go off once and making sure they can takes a little maintenance. To reiterate, with all the vibration, dust and dirt these systems need quarterly service to make sure they can do what they were made to do.

This is one major cost you don’t want to have, but one major disaster that can be avoided. Next equipment purchase check out a system and start protecting yourself.

For more information, contact Kenneth Daniels at AFEX Fire Suppression Systems at 919-781-6610.

Questions? Dave Whitelaw, The Grinder Guy, [email protected]

Landfill Trash Compactor Fire Prevention and Suppression Best Practices

When it comes to preventing fires on the heavy equipment at landfills, the first line of defense will always be keeping machines clean and well maintained. Using compressed air to clear out the radiator and other areas that tend to gather debris is a common way to do this, and doing it frequently is the easiest way to stay ahead of a problem. This is always time well spent. After all, failure to follow this best practice can result in a build up of flammable fluids and materials, which sets the stage for a fire.

On top of keeping the machine clean, a good fire prevention technique is installing fire wraps on turbochargers and exhaust manifolds. The difference between the surface temperatures on treated and untreated surfaces is significant and can mean the difference between a fire starting upon contact or not. Newer models often will have this material in place, but there is a good chance that it has not been retrofitted onto older equipment.

But let’s be realistic, in an environment where day in and day out literally tons of potential fuel meets very hot surfaces, the occasional fire is unavoidable, which is why automatic fire suppression systems are so critical.

Fire Suppression System Overview

A fire suppression system is an after-market safety accessory that is attached directly to the machine it is protecting. It is made up of tanks holding the fire-fighting agent (some canisters also hold nitrogen to power a discharge, other “side-cartridge operated” set ups keep the propellant in a separate bottle); a series of fire detection sensors; and a network of distribution tubing and nozzles. The systems can be activated either automatically when a fire triggers the actuation mechanism, or manually by an operator. The size of the system is determined by a “fire risk assessment” which evaluates how much agent would be needed to combat a fire given a number of factors, including the size of the machine’s engine, the volume of hydraulic fluids, the presence of other fuel sources, and other sources of intense heat such as turbochargers. The type of agent used to suppress a fire (dry chemical, liquid-only or dual agent) varies according to circumstances as well.

Choosing the Right Type of Fire Suppression System

The first consideration when choosing a fire suppression system type is the machine’s environment. For the landfill setting, dual agent systems are often recommended to take advantage of the strengths of each agent: the fast knockdown of a dry chemical agent and the cooling properties and extended discharge of a liquid agent. In enclosed areas, such as engine and transmission compartments, a dry chemical agent is an excellent option because it floods the space and smothers flames. When it comes to hot surfaces, such as turbochargers and exhaust manifolds, the targeted approach of a liquid agent is well suited for fire suppression, plus it has the added benefit of reducing their temperatures dramatically, which lowers the risk of reignition.

This combination approach will become even more appropriate as TIER 4 engines become more common on site. This is because these machines run hotter and are more likely to suffer from a reflash if a hydraulic hose has ruptured. At the end of the day, knowing when and where to use each type of protection is crucial, which is why systems should be installed and regularly serviced by heavy equipment fire suppression experts.

Proper Suppression Requires Proper Installation

In many ways, a fire suppression system’s effectiveness begins on Day 1 with proper installation. The highest risk components need particularly close attention since they are the most common starting points for fire. The most important of the areas to be addressed are the starter, the alternator, turbochargers and exhaust manifolds. Another area of major concern is the belly pan. This area is notorious for debris accumulation and needs to be protected, but a nozzle that is obstructed cannot effectively do its job of distributing the fire fighting agent. For this reason it is important that all nozzles protecting this area be installed above the debris line.

Maintaining a System is Everyone’s Job

Proper maintenance of the suppression system begins with monitoring it, and there is no substitute for an operator understanding the way a system works and taking an active role in the effort. A pre-shift inspection of the key components takes moments and provides the best defense against any potential operational issues. This is a wise process to have in place because there is no way of knowing when equipment damage might occur when working under such demanding conditions.

The condition of fire suppression system components should also be checked when machines are in for regular service. It is important to evaluate wear points if hydraulic hose is being used for the distribution network, especially on older machines since their rubber will begin to break down. Any worn material should be replaced as needed, as should any missing blow-off nozzle caps. If using a manifold type system with stainless steel tubing, then mechanics should be sure the compression fittings are tight and that the nozzles are properly aimed once reattached after service.

And finally, having regular service calls by a licensed and trained technician is the optimum way to ensure that your fire suppression system continues to protect your operators, your vehicles and your landfill.

Reducing Fire Suppression System Maintenance Costs

AFEX dry chemical and liquid agent fire suppression systems are built for heavy equipment. This rugged, purpose built, design can help you save money on your ongoing fire suppression system maintenance costs.

MAINTENANCE COST COMPARISON

All dry chemical agent suppression systems must be serviced at least semiannually per National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) Standard 17, however your maintenance costs can vary greatly based on the system you choose. The maintenance costs below reflect the actual part replacement costs incurred during a semiannual inspection for a mining customer that has both AFEX and non-AFEX systems installed on site.

AFEX (18 systems)

Fittings and connectors $289.98
Hose $172.90 Nozzles $107.46
Stainless steel tubing $48.60

Total Cost of Replacement Parts $618.94
Average Cost Per Machine $34.39

 

Non-AFEX (10 systems)

Fittings and connectors $643.20
Hose $1,376.50
Nozzles and nozzle caps $204.00
Batteries $1,410.00

Total Cost of Replacement Parts $3,633.70
Average Cost Per Machine $363.37

 

Because AFEX has dedicated over 45 years of research, design, and development to heavy equipment fire suppression systems, we are able to bring the best solutions to the market. Whereas other manufacturers must divide their resources amongst their other product lines, such as restaurant or industrial applications, AFEX is 100% focused on heavy equipment, enabling us to build the most reliable, most effective, and most durable heavy equipment fire suppression systems available.

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