of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences
University of Minnesota
perfect day to start wrapping up the last full week of a long, busy
harvest. There's not a cloud in the sky. The crop is dry and
bountiful. The harvest has been as hectic as any other, but
fortunately with no breakdowns or any real problems! In fact, other
than checking the oil a few times, greasing bearings, and fueling
up, your combine hasn't missed a beat. You're congratulating
yourself, because this year . . . you'll be done with harvest before
all your neighbors.
As you turn
at the end of the field, midway through your first round, you smell
smoke. You feel your stomach sink. That feeling of anticipation and
exhilaration turns to fear and you realize that last busy week of
combining could drag on into the early winter!
You jump out
of the combine wishing you were closer to the cellular telephone and
fire extinguisher in the cab of your pickup! Just as you hit the
ground, you turn back to see bright orange flames and smoke starting
to pour out of the bottom of the combine's engine compartment. You
walk toward the smoke to get at the engine to try and at least throw
some dirt on it. You burn your hands on the now red-hot hood latch
and resign yourself to standing back and watching your $150,000 new
machine go up in flames!
scene sound far-fetched? Probably not to most busy farmers. Combine
and tractor fires are a problem that cause over $20 million in
property losses each year and millions more because of lost time and
downed crops during the busy harvest season. Fires not only cause
huge losses and waste time . . . they also cause 40 or 50 serious
injuries each year, and occasionally a person is killed because of a
farm machinery fire.
There are two
keys to preventing a disaster like the one just described:
preparation in case a fire does break out
For a fire to
occur, three things must be present: air, a material to burn, and a
heat source. It's impossible to eliminate air around a farm machine.
So, farm machinery fire prevention focuses both on keeping the
machine clean of possible fire-causing materials and eliminating all
possible sources of heat that could lead to a fire.
machinery fires cost millions in property damage, downtime
losses, and personal injury.
Cleanliness and Maintenance
harvest season with a clean machine. Pay special attention to the
engine and engine compartment, since about 75% of all machinery
fires start in that area. Use a pressure washer to remove all
caked-on grease, oil, and crop residue. A clean engine will run
cooler, operate more efficiently, and greatly reduce your chance for
starting the season, make sure you frequently blow any dry chaff,
leaves, and other material off the machine with compressed air.
Also, clear off any wrapped plant materials on bearings, belts, and
other moving parts.
attention to your machine operator's manual and follow all
instructions and schedules for lubrication and routine maintenance.
If you notice any leaking fuel or oil hoses, fittings, or metal
lines, make sure to replace or repair them immediately!
tractor fires can be caused by several heat sources. The most common
is exhaust system surfaces that contact any flammable material. Make
sure your exhaust system including the manifold, muffler, and
turbocharger are in good condition and free of leaks.
your oil and performing other daily maintenance, quickly scan any
exposed electrical wiring for damage or signs of deterioration.
Replace any worn or malfunctioning electrical component with proper
parts from your dealer. If you are blowing fuses, or have a circuit
that intermittently cuts out, it's a good sign that there's a short
or loose connection in the system. The arcing electrical wires on a
farm machine will generate extremely high temperatures.
Also keep an
eye out for worn bearings, belts, and chains. A badly worn bearing
can glow red-hot. Any rubber belt subjected to intense heat from a
worn part can burst into flames.
best intentions and good maintenance, a fire on a tractor or combine
can still occur. Your best source of protection for a combine is at
least one fully charged ten-pound ABC dry chemical fire
extinguisher. A five-pound unit is recommended for tractors. Select
only extinguishers with an Underwriter's Laboratory approval. Having
two extinguishers on the machine is even better in case one
malfunctions or loses pressure. Keep one mounted in the cab, and one
where it can be reached from the ground.
extinguishers periodically, paying special attention to the pressure
gauge. To function effectively, the gauge must show adequate
pressure to expel the powder inside.
should also be checked periodically by someone from your local fire
department or insurance company. Any extinguisher that has been even
partially discharged must be fully recharged before it's used again.
During even a brief discharge, the tiny dry chemical particles will
create a small gap in the internal seal of the extinguisher valve.
This tiny opening will cause any remaining pressure to leak out in a
few hours or days.
What If I Have A
If a fire
does break out on a machine you're operating, quickly shut off the
engine, grab your extinguisher, get out, and get help. If you forget
to grab the extinguisher, don't go back in after it unless the fire
is extremely small or confined to an area well away from the cab.
cellular phone or two-way radio nearby will help get professional
assistance to the field more quickly.
fire with extreme caution. Even a small fire can flare up
dramatically as you open doors, hatches, or other areas to gain
access. These types of fires are especially dangerous when liquid
fuels are involved. If possible, use the extinguisher's flexible
hose to shoot the chemical from a safe distance at the base of any
flames you see. Continue to blanket flames to allow the fire to cool
and prevent a reflash.
it may not be possible to put out every fire. If it's in a
difficult-to-reach area or seems out of control, don't risk the
chance of injury or even death... wait for help to arrive.
resuming operation after any fire, make sure to find and correct the
Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent
NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of
the author and/or copyright holder.
NASD Review: 04/2002
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