Combine fires cause more than $20 million in property damage each year and put the health and safety of farm workers at risk. Marty Huseman of ag safety training firm Good Day’s Work shared this story:
It was this time 2 years ago our neighbor lost his combine to a fire. I’m thinking it was the first day harvesting soybeans…. [T]he fire extinguisher from the front of the combine was not charged and ready to go. There was nothing he could do till the fire department showed up. Though they lost the combine, I believe they saved the grain platform.
Because stories like these are all too common, it’s important to understand the steps you can take to prevent combine fires and to be prepared in the event one of your machines does catch fire.
Combine Fire Prevention
Preventing combine fires starts with understanding how they start. Any fire needs three things to burn: oxygen, fuel, and an ignition or heat source. Oxygen is in the air all around, but you can limit the fuel and heat available to potential fires by keeping your machinery clean and in good repair. Routine maintenance will ensure your equipment is properly lubricated and free of leaks. The National Ag Safety Database advises removing last year’s plant material from the machinery and cleaning caked-on residue from the engine using a pressure washer to reduce fire risk.
Fire Extinguisher Recommendations
It’s commonly recommended to carry two 10-pound ABC fire extinguishers on the combine: one in or near the cab and another mounted to be accessible from the ground. For extra protection, you may choose a 20-pound extinguisher for mounting near the ground. A fire extinguisher lasts only about one second per pound, so you may be glad of that extra ten seconds if a fire breaks out.
Ensure that your entire staff understands the risk of combine fires and how to respond if one occurs. Even employees who may not operate the combine should have this knowledge because they may be called upon as responders. Response time is critical to getting a small fire under control.
Fire Preparedness Checklist
Make sure you’re prepared to protect your property as well as the health and safety of your employees this season by taking the following steps.
- Ensure staff is trained in proper equipment cleaning and maintenance practices, and make sure these are kept up throughout the entire season.
- Equip each combine with two fully charged, UL-approved ABC fire extinguishers.
- Equip all trucks and tractors with additional fire extinguishers.
- Have all extinguishers professionally inspected each year.
- Ensure all staff is familiar with proper fire extinguisher operation. Because each extinguisher lasts only seconds, it’s critical that employees are able to use the extinguisher properly from the moment it becomes necessary.
- Have a tractor and disc nearby while the combine is in operation. This will provide an opportunity to create a fire break to prevent spread across the entire field.
- Equip each combine with a shovel. In case the fire extinguishers fail to completely put out a fire, you can try to smother it with soil.
- Train staff to call 911 before taking other action on their own in the event of a combine fire. It may seem like common sense to reach for the fire extinguisher first, but getting the fire department there as soon as possible is the best way to limit the damage in case workers are not able to get it under control on their own.
- Train staff to protect their personal safety first. Combine fires burn very hot and can be life threatening. People, unlike equipment, are irreplaceable.
FamilyFarms Group was proud to host Good Day’s Work at our 2018 summer conference. Thanks to Marty Huseman for sharing this valuable information with us.
FamilyFarms Group is a member-owned group of family farms that provides members with tools, training, and consultation to help their businesses compete and thrive in the ever-changing ag industry. Our collection of downloadable resources on diverse farm business topics are available to the public free of charge.