Most of us never think a fire will happen on our farm, and we forget to have a plan for if it does or check the equipment that can easily start a fire each year.
There is no better reminder of this than when someone in the community has a barn fire.
When the local firemen are responding, their minds race through how many animals may be in the barn and, if they can be removed, where will they go?
Once the firemen know which barn it is, thoughts shift to if there is any way to save a portion of the barn and where the nearest water supply will be located to send tanker trucks.
The more the local fire department knows about your farmstead, the easier this will be.
Some of us have bridges between the road and our barns, usually they are strong enough to support fire trucks if milk tankers are crossing them, but some farmsteads have two drives and only one has a bridge strong enough to hold a 3,000-plus-gallon water tanker.
Does your department know if that is your farm?
A few weeks ago, a local swine nursery barn had a close call when the gas line coming into the room heater started to leak and caught fire. Luckily someone was close to turn the gas off and a plastic waterline ruptured above to help put the fire out.
The damage was minimal and contained to the wall around the heater, but the barn was full of smoke. What would have been the outcome if the water line hadn’t melted?
Was the local department aware of barn designs in order to control the fire and stop it from spreading to the other wing of the barn? How could the fire have been prevented to begin with?
Most barn fires are caused by three primary things: mechanical/electrical failures, maintenance deficiencies or misuse of equipment.
Typical maintenance deficiencies are in heaters, electrical motors and wires. The farmer had previously replaced gas lines from the tank to the valves at each heater but stopped there.
Since visually the brass valve and plastic flex line looked good compared to the steel line, those were never replaced but were the point of failure.
Looking closely at some of the other heaters in the barn, the thread area of the valve and hose had white corrosion which is a sign of problems to come.
Heaters are one of the major causes of barn fires. As we are approaching winter, now is the time to inspect your barns before it is time to light heaters.
The first step should be to blow any dirt and dust out of the heater so that when it lights the first time there isn’t an even larger dust fire.
Once it is cleaned out, inspect the heat shields around the flame for rust and corrosion and inspect all gas fittings and electrical components.
Also check the heat shield between heat tubes and the ceiling, when these shields are missing, the ceiling above tube heaters can get too hot, resulting in a fire.
One other source of ignition for barn fires is corrosion on electrical wires due to the moisture and high humidity in the barn. The corrosion increases resistance in the wiring, creating heat which can eventually lead to a fire.
Electrical motors, tractors, skid loaders, and bearings that are part of these machines that over heat or spark have been the source of barn fires in the past.
Fall or winter may be an excellent time to invite the local fire departments to walk your barns and discuss strategies if you ever have a fire at your farm.
During the farm tour, they will be better able to see the structural design of your barn. The training tour allows them to locate areas in the barn that can be used as a fire stop to control further spread of the fire.
They can also locate any means of egress for entering the barn to extinguish the fire or for getting animals out.
With that in mind, do you have a plan for where the cows or heifers will go during a barn fire? Typically during these walk-arounds, departments discuss where the nearest water sources are and develop plans for your worst day.
The best defense your local fire department has, though, is when you have fire extinguishers handy around doors in your barn and your employees are trained to operate them in case of an emergency.