Combine fires occur on American farms every year, and they are among the most devastating incidents a farm can experience. Obviously, the machine (and often the crop) are destroyed- unfortunately, many combine operators have been seriously injured and killed in these fires.
According to a report from the National Ag Safety Database, “combine and tractor fires are a problem that cause over $20 million in property losses each year and millions more because of lost time and downed crops during the busy harvest season…they also cause 40 or 50 serious injuries each year, and occasionally a person is killed because of a farm machinery fire.”
Thankfully, many combine and harvester fires can be avoided through preventative maintenance and easily-followed safety measures.
In 2017, Ohio State University’s C.O.R.N. newsletter published this list of safety recommendations for combine operators and work crews:
- Keep the combine as clean as possible. During harvest, frequently blow dry chaff, leaves and other crop materials off the machine. Remove any materials that have wrapped around bearings, belts and other moving parts. Be sure to check those pockets that house wires or lights and where chaff accumulates.
- Keep wiring and fuses in proper working condition. Check wiring and insulation for rodent damage and replace as needed.
- Keep fittings greased and watch for overheated bearings.
- Use a ground chain attached to the combine frame to prevent static charges from igniting dry chaff and harvest residue, letting the chain drag on the ground while in the field.
- Prior to fueling a hot combine, wait 15 minutes to reduce the risk of a spill volatilizing and igniting.
- Don’t park a hot combine in the shed or shop. After a long day of harvesting, smoldering hot spots may be present in the combine. If those spots suddenly flare up, at least you won’t lose the building!
- Keep at least one fully-charged, 10-pound ABC dry chemical fire extinguisher with an Underwriter’s Laboratory approval in the combine cab.
- Mount a second, larger fire extinguisher on the outside of the machine at a height easily reached from ground level.
- Have a plan if a fire starts. Turn off the engine; get the fire extinguisher and your phone. Get out and get help.
- Stay a safe distance away.
- Call 911 before beginning to extinguish the fire.
- Approach the fire with extreme caution. Small fires can flare up quickly with the addition of air (by opening doors or hatches).
Their report found that “crop residue accumulation near a direct heat source such as the engine or exhaust system, or on and around bearings, belts and chains where heat can be generated, accounts for the majority of combine fires.”
Excessive heat around belt drives and bearings can be caused by worn pulleys generating excessive amounts of belt slip. Belt slip, in turn, causes pulleys to wear faster- creating a vicious cycle of pulley wear, glazing belts, and heat- lots of heat.
Belt slip and pulley wear aren’t just maintenance issues: in the context of harvester fires, they are safety issues, too.
Extreme Industrial Coatings has been repairing and remanufacturing severe duty machine components since 2003. Our Vulcan Grip® coating is the world’s first belt-friendly pulley coating that improves belt traction and eliminates excessive slip. The pulleys and bearings in Vulcan Grip-treated belt drive systems run cooler, prolonging bearing and belt life- and every Vulcan Grip-treated pulley comes backed by a Forever Warranty. We guarantee it will simply never wear out.