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TimberWest January/February 2011

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Fire prevention through equipment maintenance


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Fire prevention through equipment maintenance.

Fire PreventionFour most-overlooked safety insepections

By Mike Schmidt, Manager,
Forestry Tactical Marketing,
John Deere

This year, wildfires have once again gripped the Western United States. The results have been devastating as the fires have consumed huge tracts of forest land. The economic cost of these fires is also considerable, as states and communities commit tremendous resources to fighting the fires, which have destroyed untold millions of dollars worth of homes and property.

Most importantly, the human cost of these fires can be devastating. Thousands of residents living in the path of the fires are at risk, not to mention the brave men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to fight the fires.

Whatever the cause of the fires – from carelessness to intentional to Mother Nature – the extraordinarily dry weather has turned many of the Western forests into a tinderbox. With such dry conditions, it takes little time for a small spark to grow to a large fire and quickly get out of control.

Loggers are among those who are on the front lines of fire prevention. Because they rely on the living forest to make a living, loggers are typically diligent when it comes to fire prevention. With conditions being so dry, even a small oversight can lead to a fire, so it’s doubly important for loggers to do their part.

Mike SchmidtThe best thing loggers can do is make sure their equipment is operating safely. By performing simple, routine inspections and rectifying any fire hazards as soon as possible, loggers can do their part to reduce the risk of fires.

Below are some of the areas that are often overlooked when loggers perform safety and maintenance inspections. Luckily, these overlooked practices are some of the easiest to perform and typically don’t require a mechanic or specialist. Paying close attention to these key areas will allow loggers to make sure their skidders, feller bunchers, and other machines are operating safely and not posing a fire risk.

Fire extinguishers and water tanks. These are the first defense against any fires, so they should be routinely inspected. Fire extinguishers need to be easy to find and readily accessible, in working order, and up to date. Water tanks should also be inspected to be sure water levels and pressure are sufficient.

Belly pans, side shields, and access guards. These components are essential to the safety of a machine. They can also collect leaves and other debris that can be a fire hazard, especially if working in dry conditions or during the autumn. These components should be inspected at least monthly, more frequently if the conditions are right for fires. These components should also be cleaned on a regular basis using compressed air or power washers. This not only removes combustible debris, it also makes it easier to spot fluid leaks.

Fluid leaks. Aside from affecting the performance of a machine, fluid leaks can compound the risk of fire. Fuel, oil, and other combustible fluids collecting in the belly pan or leaking onto the ground make it even easier for a spark or excessive heat to lead to fire. Be sure to identify and fix any leaks as soon as possible.

Felling heads. The hardest-working part of any timber harvesting operation, felling heads have a lot of moving parts and components and are prone to collecting sawdust and other debris. This not only affects the efficiency of the heads, it can also cause them to generate excessive heat, which can lead to fires, especially in hot, dry conditions. Keeping heads free of debris is a simple solution.

Playing it safe with regular inspections will go a long way toward preventing fires from starting, as well as optimizing the safety and productivity of any logging operation.