Bryan Long has seen the unfortunate results of too many farm equipment fires that could have been easily prevented.
From too much dust combined with high engine or exhaust temperatures, to fuel or oil leaks around the exhaust and electrical shorts, he’s got a long list of common causes.
But, as a licensed agricultural equipment technician and shop foreman with Stoltz Sales and Service in Listowel, Long believes almost all of them could have been prevented with proper maintenance, inspections and timely repairs.
Why it matters: Proper maintenance can eliminate fire hazards and reduce downtime caused by equipment breakdowns.
“Timing is everything on a farm. When we’re working against the weather, farmers have to have field-ready equipment. And that means making the time ahead of the busy season for regular maintenance and inspections to prevent problems like breakdowns or serious equipment fires in the field,” says Long. “It isn’t just about preventing smoke, it’s about farm safety too.”
Consider operating conditions
Dry and dusty conditions increase the risk of fire anywhere on a farm. Unfortunately, those are also the conditions a lot of farm equipment operates in, especially balers and combines, making them the most common types of farm equipment to catch fire. Long notes that while balers and combines are designed to safely operate in dry, dusty conditions, they still need extra attention before going to the field and close monitoring while operating.
Most agricultural equipment has covers and panels over exhaust systems to reduce the amount of dirt and debris from getting into the equipment and, in some cases catching fire.
“But, over time debris will get in and pack between these covers and the hot exhaust systems, causing a serious fire risk, especially on newer equipment with emission certified engines,” says Long, explaining that newer engines use a catalyst chamber or a diesel particulate filter that is often behind removable covers and panels.
These panels must be removed to clean the exhaust area of debris regularly. Long also reminds farmers and equipment operators that regular inspection and maintenance are vital to safe operation. “It only takes a few minutes to remove the panels and covers periodically to clean out the often-overlooked debris.”
Make a maintenance routine
“A quick visual inspection for excessive debris, oil leaks, loose electrical harnesses and signs of worn bearings will prevent most fires if taken care of quickly and properly,” says Long, who also lists lack of maintenance and cleaning, daily inspections, overtired or inexperienced operators and poor-quality repairs or modifications as the riskiest situations that can lead to equipment safety issues and fires.
He says the best source for safety precautions is an operator’s manual.
“This information is specific to each piece of equipment and is the most underutilized tool. Many owners never even open the manual.”
The operator’s manual is also a good tool for new equipment operators to review to become familiar with each piece of equipment. Long notes that many farms have multiple equipment operators, making the importance of understanding equipment operations, keeping accurate maintenance records and building visual inspections and safety checks into operational routines a must.
“Prevention and maintenance are your best defence against a fire in the field, but accidents happen,” reminds Long. “Be safe and always tell someone where you are working and know where you are so emergency responders can get to you if needed.”
In-season fire prevention tips
- Every piece of equipment and tractor should have a properly sized fire extinguisher attached that has been regularly inspected.
- Keep equipment clean and free of debris — keep a leaf blower with the combine or baler and use it daily, or even twice daily in extremely dusty conditions.
- Inspect equipment before and during use, especially on long days in the field. Look for leaks and dust or debris build ups.
- Consider installing fans or blowers to continuously clean problem areas during operation.
- Reversing or variable pitch fans can be installed to change the direction of air flow through the radiator and coolers to keep them clean. This also helps keep engines cooler, preventing high operating temperatures.
- Pay attention — listen and watch for anything abnormal while operating the equipment. Monitor the instrument cluster gauges to ensure normal operating conditions and stop to inspect the equipment if you’re unsure.
- Keep equipment greased — balers and combines have a lot of moving parts and are prone to bearing failures that can generate enough heat to cause a fire, so make sure bearings are lubricated by greasing them regularly, and in accordance with equipment operator manuals. Make the time to inspect the bearings for possible problems or failures.
Fire-safe tips for safe field operation
Bryan Long, a licensed agricultural equipment technician with Stoltz Sales and Service in Listowel, Ont., offers three pre-season fire prevention and machinery safety tips for farmers and equipment operators to reduce the risk of farm equipment fire and keep operators safe in the field.
- Maintenance — When it comes to repairs, know your limits. Most farmers are handy, but if you are uncertain about a repair or modification, call an expert or book the equipment for a full annual maintenance inspection at a dealership.
- Inspection — Examine the exhaust system for leaks, broken clamps or manifold bolts. Inspect fuel and oil lines for leaks or damage that may fail during operation. And don’t forget to fix anything you find, don’t wait until it’s too late.
- Clean up — Open or remove covers to clean out debris build up. If a fuel or oil leak is repaired, ensure the area is washed of any oil residue to prevent debris from sticking to equipment and building up.
This article was produced as part of the Farm & Food Care Ontario: Livestock Emergency Preparedness Project and the Reducing the Risk of Barn Fires Advisory Panel (2016). A group of concerned Ontario farm commodity groups, fire prevention officers, electrical safety professionals and Government of Ontario staff.
This project was funded in part through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of the partnership in Ontario.