Fires in heavy vehicles

Published:  11 August, 2014

‘A leap in technology’ is how Tyco described the launch of a new heavy vehicle detection and actuation system introduced and demonstrated in Madrid, Spain, in front of a receptive audience of distributors from 20 different countries.

The Next Generation Ansul Checkfire Electronic Detection and Actuation Systems are the culmination of a three-year research and development project that aims to address a number of fire-related issues in the mining sector as well as other industries that use heavy vehicles.

According to the NFPA, underground mining accounts for more fatalities than any other industry (by far). Between 1900 and 1999, more than 100,000 miners died in US coal mine incidents alone as a result of fires or explosions. In the same 100-year period approximately 23,000 miners have died in non-coal mines.

Thankfully, mine accidents have declined dramatically as a result of research, technology, and preventative programmes, and, according to the US Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), mine accidents resulting in five or more deaths (the traditional threshold for the qualifying term ‘mine disaster’) are no longer common.


To set the scene, a coach delivers around 40 distributors to Grupo Fortem’s fire training installation 30 miles northwest of Madrid. In the middle of the training ground is an engine rigged up with the Ansul LVS Vehicle Fire Suppression System, consisting of a gas cartridge, a container of LVS premix, and eight nozzles positioned in various points surrounding the sizeable engine.

A belly pan under the engine serves to start proceedings, and a fire quickly spreads to cover a large area of the oil and grease-covered engine, where a third fire (turbo) has also started to burn. The rig is allowed to burn for around 40 seconds, quickly generating warmth and – according to thermal sensors – reaching temperatures of around 700 °C. The LVS system is then manually activated, and the eight nozzles spray the premix agent for around 40 seconds, extinguishing the fire and reducing the temperature of the rig to around 320 °C. Mission successful.

Building on the Checkfire SC-N

Back at Tyco’s new office in Madrid, which features a new TechXchange Training Centre, Ronnie Drugan, business development manager at Tyco Fire Protection Products, explains where the Next Generation Checkfire came from.

Checkfire is not a new name to the market. It has been protecting heavy industrial vehicles for 15 years.

The Checkfire 110 system provides electrical and/or pneumatic input to actuate an Ansul fire suppression system for single-zone protection. When a fire is detected, the control module sends an electrical signal to release the gas from the gas cartridge to pressurise and discharge the fire suppression system. Operating components include the control module, spot or linear thermal detection, electric manual actuators and a protracting actuation device.

The Checkfire 210 system is the big brother of the Checkfire 110 system, and is engineered to protect multiple hazard areas. Equipped with two independent detection circuits it can provide single-zone detection, two-zone detection, cross-zone detection, discharge pressure feedback monitoring or alarm only. It is designed for use with an Ansul LVS, A-101, or Twin-Agent Vehicle Fire Suppression System.

While the Checkfire 110 is designed for the protection of smaller vehicles (eg waste disposal, forestry), the 210 version is for larger applications such as hydraulic excavators, haul trucks, wheeled loaders, dozers and graders.

Next Generation Checkfire

The FM-approved and CE-marked Checkfire system has been engineered to protect the lives of the vehicle operators in case of fire, but also to ensure that their lives stay protected in the case that the system develops a fault.

If the system recognises it is faulty, it can automatically shut off the engine of the heavy vehicle and stop it operating until the alarm system has been fixed. ‘Our competition has what they call “fail safe mode”, which actually just releases the entire agent. We have gone one step forward to identify that there is a false alarm, and instead of releasing $10,000 of agent, we stop the machine, investigate, and solve the problem, thereby saving the customer a lot of money,’ explains Ronnie Drugan, adding that the system can be configured so that an alarm signal is also sent to a programmable logic controller.

Furthermore, the New Generation Checkfire has the capability to provide time-stamped false alarm reports, which can be downloaded onto USB sticks in the field for review back in the office.

As with the previous generation Checkfire, the Next Generation is offered with the choice of spot or linear detection. In areas where the heat would be contained, such as the electrical control room of a large excavator, Ronnie suggests a spot detector would be more appropriate. In more open areas such as an engine bay, linear detection would be recommended. ‘For some of the top high-value assets we would promote infrared detection, because it would detect a fire in three or four seconds as opposed to five to 15 seconds.’

The LVS extinguishing agent is described by Ronnie as environmentally friendly, and can be used in any country. It is sold as a premix, he explains, to avoid potential problems with local water quality, and it has a 25-year guarantee. The demonstration used a ten-gallon tank of LVS, but a five-gallon and up to a 30-gallon version is available with different nozzle configurations (up to 20 nozzles on the larger set-ups). ‘We can protect from a $5,000 fork lift truck in a hazardous environment in a paper mill up to a $36m machine,’ says Ronnie, adding that being able to pre-empt a problem before it occurs is particularly significant in the mining industry, where lead times for specialist giant machines can be anything from six months to two years.

‘With the technology now we can ensure that the operator and the vehicle are protected 24/7. And if not, it is better to take the vehicle offline and repaired rather than having a real fire that damages it substantially. If you lose an excavator with a two-year construction lead-time, the impact is significant because that excavator might have been feeding 10 trucks. So if you lose that excavator you also lose ten trucks. If our system goes off and extinguishes the fire, then at least the equipment can be repaired and the system recharged, and back online 24 hours later.’

As to the potential risk of a large vehicle that has been immobilised by actually blocking an escape route (eg tunnel entrance), Ronnie answers that that is a conversation to be had with the client. The engine cut-off function doesn’t have to be activated, or the system can be set up so there is a 10-15 second delay between the alarm going off and the engine cutting out, with the option for the operator to delay this further manually. ‘We also have the facility to override the release mechanism, so if an operator needs to get out of a tunnel to a safe place he can press the delay function until he reaches the evacuation point.’

Worldwide availability

The new system will be available through Ansul’s certified distribution network, and Ronnie is keen to point out that its installers will all be thoroughly trained before being authorised to sell the system. In the case of Checkfire, this entails a three-day training course followed by an open-book test. ‘We want to make sure they understand how the system works, because typically the machines they will be protecting can be anything between $1m and $5m. The largest one I have protected was $36m. And we are protecting assets, production time and safety. We protect the operator and give him the safety.’

Some distributors will fit the Checkfire directly at the factory where the vehicles are manufactured, and which may be disassembled for transport and later assembled at site. Others will retrofit the systems using purpose-built vehicles that double up as mobile workshops. ‘We have operational guys in Ghana, Tanzania, Namibia and Siberia. We even have one distributor working with a vehicle manufacturer installing the mining vehicles with Checkfire, followed up by an audit.’

Looking at the market for this type of technology, Ronnie believes Ansul have a 70% market share in Europe and the US, with Australia and Asia Pacific trailing behind (but catching up). ‘We have been the market leader in vehicle protection for 50 years now, and we want to jump ahead.’

As with fire safety-related equipment in most countries, the adoption of this technology is driven by standards, insurance companies, and education. Countries that don’t have international mining houses operating within them and bringing in their standards and practices are not always up to date with best practice or equipment. ‘They may use portable extinguishers without realising that when you lift the engine hood up you are allowing more oxygen in, so the fire flashes back. What we are promoting is a system that is contained and doesn’t put the operator at risk.’

  • Operation Florian

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