Nothing like billowing black smoke at the top of the 11 o’clock news.
Several recent fires in New York, near Toronto, in San Diego (costing $150,000) and in northern Michigan (video at www.mlive.com/news/grandrapids/2016/04/video_shows_massive_fire_teari.html) had one thing in common – they were from auto recyclers who used oxy-acetylene torches to remove parts from vehicles.
Preventing disaster requires that you put in place yard fire safety best practices. One best practice recognizes that you no longer need to use a potentially dangerous torch to remove parts. Acetylene is an extremely flammable gas, is unstable and pollutes by emitting toxic fumes.
Ryan Fogelman, vice president of strategic partnerships for fire safety solutions company Fire Rover, has a broad view of fires throughout the waste and recycling industry. “We see a lot of fires that start from embers that will shoot off during hot work,” such as the use of torches, he said. “You can have a spark on the floor and you don’t see it. And on at least one occasion, one of the embers has flown up above the sprinkler system” and couldn’t be reached by the system’s water.
There is an Alternative
After 28 years as a collision repair technician, in 2000 I founded Induction Innovations, the Elgin, IL-based manufacturer of induction heater tools for vehicle and equipment repair (www.theinductor.com). I’ve pioneered the use of induction heating to create flameless tools for auto repair, agricultural equipment repair and recycling.
Many recyclers already use induction heating – Invisible Heat® – instead of traditional knives and wires to remove glass with the Inductor® Glass Blaster induction heater. The Glass Blaster removes windshields intact for resale – in a fraction of the time it takes using wires or any other method.
Today auto recyclers are also applying induction heating for quick (up to 75-90 percent faster than torches), safe, consistent and controlled removal of stuck, seized or frozen nuts, bolts and fasteners that secure bumpers, O2 sensors, brakes, suspensions and hundreds of other parts.
The Induction Innovations line of Mini-Ductor® hand-held portable induction heater tools removes these parts from used vehicles without damage, increasing productivity and profitability. The process maintains parts in their original condition so that they can retain their value and be sold for reuse.
How Induction Heating Works
Induction heating generates a high frequency magnetic field that can travel through a few inches of space, plastic, glass or any non-metallic material. The magnetic field encounters an auto part made of ferrous metal – one with a significant amount of iron in its composition. Because ferrous metal has magnetic properties, a circulating current is created. The current combines with resistance in the metal to generate heat. The greater the resistance, the greater the heat produced.
The Mini-Ductor line comes with different types of bendable coils that attach to the unit to fit the problem part. These are shaped to flex around corners and fit into hard-to-reach crevices and tight spots a flame cannot. The Mini-Ductor heats a ¾-inch or 19-mm nut red hot in 15 seconds, but the coil itself does not get hot. The heat expands the nut to break the bond of corrosion or sealer between it and the bolt.
Since induction heat is localized on the part and not the surrounding area, it leaves nearby paint, plastic, rubber or glass unscarred, with no need to remove or shield adjacent parts, as required with a torch.
Cost savings from not using oxy-acetylene is striking. On average, insurance premiums can be reduced 10-30 percent, depending on use and insurance provider. Add to that the savings from not spending $250-$300 a year to rent a gas bottle.
Fogelman sees the potential for the Mini-Ductor® to help prevent fires: “If you’re able to heat something without burning it or causing it to throw off sparks, it’s going to reduce fire risk.” (Watch demo at www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5EcZ3exRY8.)
One Mini-Ductor® user that has found it “tried and true” for salvaging clips and components is Ill.-based Marengo Auto Body and Glass. Owner Steve Wallace Jr. says his shop has used the Mini-Ductor® instead of torches for eight years. “The Mini-Ductor® is obviously a safer and quicker process,” he says. “We just grab it and go. We don’t have to worry about (acetylene) gas (expense and storage) either.”
Sample Codes for Fire Safety
While the role of the Mini-Ductor® is significant, there is much more to overall salvage yard fire safety. Many jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada have detailed fire codes for auto recycling facilities. One comprehensive example is the Ontario Fire Code for salvage facilities (oara.com/wp-content/files/Fire-Code-illustrated-commentary.pdf). The code spells out helpful procedures:
- Drain and ventilate gas tanks on vehicles to be salvaged.
- Make certain all areas are accessible to fire department vehicles.
- Keep water barrels close to all parts of the yard.
- Have portable extinguishers in each building.
- Have private hydrants close to fire hose.
- Permit smoking only in areas far from flammable materials.
- Post “No Smoking” signs, fire department telephone number and location of nearest telephones conspicuously.
- Keep piles of combustible salvage separated by clear lanes.
- Store tanks or drums in piles separate from piles of other materials.
- Store piles of containers with metal shavings, turnings and dust in an area separate from other salvage materials and identified with warning signs.
- Don’t put storage piles beneath electrical power lines.
- Prohibit open air burning.
- Have provisions for access to water tanker shuttle operations within fire department access routes.
- Have plenty of space between all storage piles.
Note: This code is provided as a sample, be aware of the fire codes in your jurisdiction.
Combining the System
Expanding on such codes, Fogelman and Jim Emerson, fire engineering manager at Starr Technical Risks Agency, created a Combinational Approach™ that “involves use of the best people, equipment, communications and training in the right ways, in order to provide with its best chance of catching and extinguishing a fire before a major fire incident shuts down your business.” Their recommendations that don’t duplicate the Ontario Code list are:
- Install thermal cameras to provide automatic thermal detection.
- Have a working automatic sprinkler system and adequate water supply.
- Have available a pre-wetting foam agent, configured for wide, obstruction-free application by twin water nozzles.
- Ensure remote, human verified, manual control of the foam agent dispenser from a safe location.
- Don’t put employees at risk in an internally staffed fire brigade. It’s too risky and hard to put in compliance with Occupational Health and Safety Administration Requirements.
- Configure an emergency response such as providing a lancing nozzle, fire service hose and a deck gun in order to be prepared for the fire response professionals’ arrival.
- Train employees to start the fire pump and shut off the proper electric circuits to save time for the fire professionals.
- Have a trained bulldozer/loader operator with the proper equipment or make sure the fire department is trained on your equipment.
- Have manually operable roof vents to let heat escape.
- Inspect and test equipment regularly.
- Have secondary rally points for personnel to remain and help the fire service.
- Develop a rapport with the fire department.
Find full report at www.linkedin.com/pulse/2019-report-annual-reported-waste-recycling-facility-fires-fogelman/.
I hope that these best practices for fire safety not only help prevent such nightmares such as a facility fire but offer
savings in time, money, property damage – and lives.
Tom Gough, Founder and President, Induction Innovations®, founded the firm in 2000 following 28 years as a collision repair technician. With a strong desire to find easier and better repair procedures, Gough taught himself induction heat theory and adapted it to many applications in the automotive repair and recycling industries.