We now know a lot about barn fire prevention

Practical ways to reduce on-farm fire risk

By:  Matt McIntosh  Farm & Food Care Ontario

To reduce their risk of barn fires, farmers should take extra time to make sure everything is running friction-free. According to Bruce Kelly, a former pig farmer who is now Farm & Food Care’s Program Manager, better fire prevention starts with the simple – but often overlooked – basics.

“One of the most important things producers can do is tidy things up,” he says. “Make sure to keep walkways free of debris, and check any outside facing heater vents or pipes for bird nests.”

“Gas cans and any combustible substances should also be stored in an appropriate location, which means keeping them in a different building and not in the livestock barn.”

Since dust is almost always a significant factor in barn environments, Kelly also says that leaf blowers can be an excellent tool for expelling dirt from rooms, filters, heaters and fans. Blow down with a leaf blower may not replace a full wash, of course, but it might be a good alternative in less than ideal environmental conditions – such as during winter – and help keep electrical components dry.

Lessons learned from some recent fires, he says, indicate corroded plugs and electrical components are a leading cause of barn fires. Electronic equipment often has to work overtime in cold weather, too, so ensuring all components are working efficiently is critical.

“The good news is that we can now source NEMA 4X water proof plugs for use in wet locations such as barn fans and heat lamps cords at a reasonable price. (Photo) These plugs have a rubber sleeve that makes a water proof seal when the two ends are mated, and has a rubber cap to cover the open end when you want to wash down,” says Kelly.

Of course, not all fire prevention is as simple as sweeping the floors or scraping rust off the fire extinguisher. Indeed, one of the toughest parts of fire prevention is actually taking the time to think about – and understand – how prevention factors into day-to-day activities, and how damaging a fire can actually be.

Inspection can also be improved with the use of FLIR thermal imaging cameras. These cameras can see changes in heat and can help detect overloaded circuits, bad breakers, bad Marr connections, or corrosion developing in an open receptacle or bad cord end. They are also a useful tool in early detection of equipment deterioration.

“Many mutual insurance companies now include a thermal scan of electrical equipment as part of their inspections,” says Kelly.

[For more information on where to borrow or purchase a Thermal gun, contact: bruce@farmfoodcare.org]