Prime Mover Magazine

Truck fire seminar targets causes and prevention imperatives

Starter motor cables have been found to be the largest single cause of engine/cab fires attendees have heard at a seminar in Sydney focusing on the causes and effects of truck fires.

The Australian Road Transport Suppliers’ Association (ARTSA) yesterday brought together a number of experts who made detailed presentations on the various causes and effects of truck fires and how best to reduce a recent rise in incidents, and how to handle them if inevitable.

“Fires are all too prevalent,” said leading forensic expert and ARTSA Executive Member Dr Peter Hart, speaking at the event.

Dr Hart is the author of the 2006 ARTSA document ‘Why Trucks catch Fire’.

“The causes of truck fires are generally well known but understanding of the causes by the heavy vehicle community, and the resultant prevention of these fires has been sadly lacking," he said.

"It is time that more was done to promote the causes and opportunities for prevention,” said Hart.

The conference brought together forensic investigators, emergency services, policy makers, manufacturers, operators, regulators and component suppliers.

Adam Gibson, Transport and Risk Engineer at major transport industry insurer NTI, said that non-impact fires occur at the rate of one truck in every 5,000 per year.

The major causes are engine/cab fires (57 per cent), wheel end fires including dragging brakes (33 per cent), load fires (7 per cent) and fires in refrigeration units (3 per cent).

In the largest category of engine/cab fires 56 per cent were caused by electrical issues and 44 per cent are attributed to mechanical faults.

Just as starter motor cables had been found to be the largest single cause of engine/cab fires, operators were urged to increase the level of inspection and maintenance of these components.

From an engineering perspective the ratings of the main supply cables should be increased substantially.

The combination of ultra-high pressure common rail fuel injection systems and the inherent heat of turbo chargers translates into the smallest of fuel leaks quickly escalating to a conflagration involving the entire vehicle.

Superintendent Peter Cleary from Fire and Rescue NSW advised that almost every truck fire becomes a hazardous material incident due to the presence of diesel fuel and expressed concern about the possible impacts of a major truck fire occurring in a road tunnel.

Chief Inspector Phil Brooks from the NSW Highway Patrol suggested that much of the incidence of late model trucks becoming involved in fires can be attributed to cursory maintenance procedures due to the pressure on technicians to quickly return the trucks to the road.

“Fatigue is leaking into the maintenance space,” said Chief Inspector Brooks, a unifying theme between many of the group discussions at the seminar.

Those attending also were able to witness first hand a practical demonstration of the effectiveness of modern on-board fire suppression systems.

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