The frequency of fires at solid waste facilities is increasing. Operators of solid waste facilities must be prepared by pre-planning with local fire departments to increase firefighters’ knowledge of the facility, which can increase the speed and effectiveness of a response to an actual fire.
By Will Flower
Fire prevention programs such as good housekeeping, employee training and regular facility inspections are proactive steps that can be taken to protect solid waste facilities from damaging fire. These programs have become even more important in recent years as owners and operators of solid waste facilities have reported an increase in the number of fires.
The higher number of fires can be attributed to a number of factors including the improper disposal of lithium batteries, stockpiling large volumes of materials and longer storage time of materials, especially at recycling centers where the collapse of markets for some commodities have resulted in the necessity of stockpiling recyclables.
Fires at transfer stations, recycling facilities and landfills are extremely dangerous and difficult to extinguish. Depending on the fuel mass and other conditions, fires can increase rapidly in both size and intensity. Therefore, speed is critical when responding to fires.
To assist firefighters, managers of solid waste facilities can contact their local fire department to schedule a “pre-planning” meeting. The purpose of the pre-planning meeting is for firefighters to familiarize themselves with the facility and gain knowledge that will be helpful when responding to a fire alarm. Pre-planning meetings are usually attended by fire chiefs, line officers and firefighters.
To ensure a successful pre-plan meeting, schedule the event with sufficient lead time and ask the fire chief what time of day works best to ensure maximum attendance. Keep in mind that some areas are protected by volunteers, and the best time to conduct a pre-planning event may be on the weekends or during the evening.
During the pre-planning meeting, firefighters will review a number of critical factors that will be useful in the event of an actual fire. For example, firefighters will want to review the physical layout of the building to identify access and escape routes. They will also want to know the location of:
• Keys to gain access to a facility during non-operating hours
• Alarm panels
• Fire hydrants and sources of water supply
• Fire protection systems such as sprinkler systems
• Onsite fuel tanks
• Propane storage
• Hazardous material storage including paints, flammable liquids, oils, etc.
• Utility rooms
• Roof access
Firefighters may also want to know about the construction of onsite buildings. Specifically, the type of building material used to construct the building which could be an important factor if the structure is subject to intense heat from a fire. Managers should also provide emergency contact information including the names, cell phone numbers, and home phone numbers of managers and supervisors who can be contacted in the event of a fire during non-working hours.
Like any successful meeting, a pre-planning event requires preparation. Having up-to-date drawings and information will result in a meaningful meeting with first responders. It is also good practice for managers to update first responders when buildings, office spaces and equipment is changed to ensure firefighters have the most up-to-date records.
Fires at landfills, transfer stations and recycling centers can disrupt operations, threaten the safety of employees, and damage equipment and buildings. Working with firefighters will help speed the response to a fire resulting in less potential property damage from a blaze.
Will Flower is the Vice President of Corporate and Public Affairs at Winters Bros. Waste Systems. Will has 36 years of experience in the area of solid waste management and environmental protection. He has held operational and executive leadership positions at the Director’s Office of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Waste Management, Inc., Republic Services. Inc. and Green Stream Recycling.
Share your safety tip. Submit your suggestions to Will Flower at email@example.com.