Derek Benedict was baling straw a few weekends ago when a bearing on his newer baler failed, sparking a fire.
“It went from zero to fully engulfed in about 30 seconds before I could even call 911.”
Benedict, who is also the deputy fire chief with the Torrington Fire Department, in Torrington, Alberta, unhitched the tractor from the baler. The fire was extinguished with the help of neighbours with water wagons and two local fire departments but the baler was lost and about ten acres of straw burned. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
There’s always a potential for fire when your farming vehicles lumber along the dry fields, especially during harvest when the big machines are working overtime.
Jody Wacowich, executive director with AgSafe Alberta, says statistically, August, September, and October are the most dangerous months of the year on the farm.
“We’re in a hurry. We’re trying to get things done. We’re trying to beat the weather. Often, it’s just taking that moment to step back and ask, is there something here that can harm me? Is there something that I should pay a little more attention to? And am I doing this in a safe way so that I get to go home at the end of the day?”
When it comes to fire safety during harvest, Wacowich suggests the first thing you should do is make sure you have a fire extinguisher on all pieces of equipment, that it’s charged and ready to go.
Second, practice regular maintenance and inspection on all your vehicles.
“At the end of the day, are you blowing all the dust off? Are you checking that no dust or debris is building up in certain places that could be more accessible for sparks to set off a fire? Just make sure that you’re inspecting your vehicle at the end of the day and the following morning.”
She also suggests having water nearby and determining who can bring that water to you should a fire start. To that end, Wacowich encourages you to hold a practice fire drill with your family and team.
“This is the time of year that kids go back to school. In the next month or so, they’ll have a fire drill so everyone knows what happens in case of a fire. It’s no different on the farm. Talk to your people about what happens and who to call. Is their first call to the fire department, or is it you to get first responders there?”
For his part, Benedict adds farmers should always know their land location. It can make all the difference in the case of a fire.
“When you call 911, you have a precise location for them. It’s about speed and response for the first responders.”
In the end, fire prevention during harvest comes down to three things: preparation, maintenance, and communication. The better prepared you are, the better you’ll be able to deal with an expected fire and lower the risk of injury or death. People are the most important resource on your farm. Put their safety first because equipment and crops are far more replaceable than people.