Friday, January 14, 2011

Confined Structure Fires also Combustible Dust Related?

Just prior to the Christmas holiday a minor combustible dust related fire occurred in a dust collector at a Misc. Fabricated Metal Producing Manufacturing/NAICS 332999 facility in Wisconsin. These type of facilities are listed in Appendix D-2 of the OSHA ComDust NEP as Fabricated Metal Products, Not Elsewhere Classified with industries that may have Potential for Combustible Dust Explosions/Fires.

According to the news account:

The fire was extinguished and contained to the dust collector bag house. There was no fire extension into manufacturing plant.

The incident begs the question was this a confined structure fire? Where as in similiar small fire incidents that are limited in scope, are confined to noncombustible containers, rarely result in serious injury or large content losses, and are expected to have no accompanying property losses due to flame damage. The news account mentions no fire extension into manufacturing plant nor injuries which resulted in an estimated $10,000 damage to dust collection bag house. Since dust collectors are constructed of metal they would be non-combustible.

In the U.S. Fire Administration/National Fire Data Center, Investigation of Confined Structure Fires, Topical Fire Research Series, the report noted 2002 NFIRS 5.0 data contain abbreviated reporting for slightly over 52,000 confined structure fire incidents—37% of structure fires.These incidents accounted for $26 million in combined losses, 3 deaths, and nearly 500 injuries. Most confined structure fires (77.5%) occurred on residential properties. It is the other 23% that we are concerned about in manufacturing non-residential properties.

There is a problem in this US Fire Administration reporting in that it does not formally consider dust collectors or other process equipment in the manufacturing sector that are non-combustible as confined structure fires. Instead, cooking fires, trash or rubbish fires, chimney fires, commercial compactor, fuel burners, and incinerators are used as data element descriptors in these type of fires.

This does present a problem since fire service professionals can't identify combustible dust fire hazards in the NFIRS 5.0 reporting system, then how can they assist stakeholders in evaluating and controlling combustible dust fire hazards. All combustible dust related fires are failed catastrophic combustible dust explosions. Time is way overdue for the FEMA/US Fire Administration's National Fire Data Center to review their fire reporting methodology that omits the dozens of minor combustible dust related fires that have a history of evolving into catastrophic dust explosions.

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