Barn fires are brutal affairs

barn fires are brutal affairs

Highlights

  • Updates needed to the National Farm Building Code, which outlines requirements for fire safety on Canadian farm
  • Do proper house cleaning and routine maintenance of electrical boxes, lighting and wiring
  • Do not refuel hot machinery indoors
  • Barns have high fire load - the building’s contents can contribute to a fire

Fire chief Bill Hunter has battled a lot of blazes in his career. But barn fires have made some of the greatest impressions.

“You hear the screams of the animals inside and see farmers reduced to tears right in front of you,” Hunter says. “It’s horrific, something you don’t forget.”

Major pain and suffering

As fire chief in the rural Ontario township of Perth East, Hunter has many such memories. Farming is the number one industry in the region, which is located a half-hour drive west of Kitchener.

Fires on farms there caused $21 million in damages between 2010 and 2014, accounting for 70 per cent of total losses from fire in the township over that five-year period.

You can put all the safeguards you want in place, but they’re no good if people don’t take some precautions.

But those figures don’t include the pain and suffering of animals and people. 

One particularly violent blaze near Puslinch, a half-hour drive east of Kitchener, killed 40 race horses. That fire generated national media coverage and calls from animal rights groups for increased protection for animals.

More updates needed to farm building codes

Federal politicians promised to address those concerns in the updates the government is doing on the National Farm Building Code, which outlines requirements for fire safety on Canadian farms.

Hunter would like to see some regulations added to the code, which hasn’t been updated since 1995.  Those changes include the requirement for on-site water in barns, and fire separators to slow down the spread of fires.

“Barns built today are typically 100 feet wide and 200 or 300 feet long,” Hunter says. “They’re huge buildings that often house the entire inventory and livelihoods of farming families.”

Though safeguards and regulations help to both avoid and fight fires, Hunter cautions they only do so much. “You can put all the safeguards you want in place, but they’re no good if people don’t take some precautions,” he says.

Take precautions

Farmers can consult his fire service’s barn fire safety program on their Farm Fire Safety page.

Launched a year ago, the program contains a high-quality, heart-tugging video, three shorter public service announcements derived from it, brochures and even six-foot pop-up banners. The program and video have been requested by more than two dozen Ontario firefighting services.

He recommends farmers do “proper house cleaning” and routine maintenance of electrical boxes, lighting and wiring.  He also sounds the alarm against refueling hot machinery indoors.

“Barns have a high fire load,” says Hunter, referring to the term for total fuel that a building’s contents and construction materials can contribute to a fire. “You have hay that is hopefully dry, grain dust, lots of hot equipment and electrical wiring around. What could go wrong?”

8 key elements of a farm fire safety plan

  1. In-person assessment
  2. Fire pre-planning
  3. Water supply assessment
  4. Owner, operator and employee training
  5. Fire drill scenarios
  6. Livestock evacuation plan
  7. Fire safety checklist
  8. Farm fire safety for kids

Source: Perth East Fire Department

From an AgriSuccess article (Sept/Oct 2016) by Mark Cardwell.

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