A garbage truck driver had made only a handful of stops one morning when he was frantically flagged down by another motorist. The concerned motorist indicated that there was smoke pouring out of the back of the garbage truck. Unfortunately, in this real-life example, the hot load fire inside the truck had already grown to a level at which there was nothing the driver could do to save the vehicle. Instead, he wisely opted to exit the truck immediately, saving his life. In the end, the vehicle was a total loss, and a large insurance claim was made.
Hot load fires can occur at any time in any kind of collection vehicle. Because time is critical during a hot load fire, drivers and helpers must be well trained so they can react quickly. For this reason, waste companies should regularly train workers on how to spot a hot load fire and what actions should be taken to save the truck — and lives.
Obviously, the best thing is to prevent the fire from starting in the first place. A good prevention program begins with educating customers regarding combustible items that should not be placed in their refuse. These items include hot ashes from fireplaces or barbecues, paints or paint thinners, oils, fuels, brake fluid, pool or spa chemicals, and automobile batteries. The above items, either by themselves or in combination with each other, are the most common causes of hot load fires. This education can take the form of flyers accompanying a bill, a blurb on the company’s website, stickers on containers or residential carts, or public service announcements.
Customers aren’t the only ones who need to be trained to recognize potential fire starters. Ensure that drivers and helpers know how to identify prohibited items during the collection process. While it may not be possible to stop every prohibited item, the fewer of these that actually make it into the waste truck, the less chance there is of a fire.
The second best way not to lose a truck is to spot the fire as early as possible and take quick corrective action. The sooner a fire is detected, the greater the chance of saving the truck. Again, training is key. Both drivers and helpers need to be alert to the telltale signs of a hot load fire: smoke, acrid odors, blistering paint or a hot spot on the body of the truck.
Once a hot load fire has been detected, the driver should immediately call the fire department. Then, if it can be SAFELY accomplished, the driver should eject the load (preferably on a flat, paved service) and then move the truck away from the burning refuse. There are situations where a hot load fire can grow to a point where ejecting the load cannot be accomplished safely, and in these cases the driver should move away from the truck and wait for the fire department.
With effective employee training and customer education, you can help ensure a hot load fire does not result in the loss of property, or worse.
Bruce Hooker works for Mattei Insurance Services, Inc. based in Sacramento, Calif.