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The best problem is the one avoided. That is especially true when it comes to fires at automobile shredding facilities.

“Just because you have guards on your site doesn’t mean they are walking everywhere and monitoring heat,” says Donnie Brewer Jr., president of DCC (Don’s Car Crushing) Metal Recycling. He is the third generation of the Brewer family to manage the company, which was founded during World War II by his grandfather Dewey Brewer as Hemingway Scrap Iron and Metal and renamed by his father, Donnie Brewer Sr., in 1973 when he took over the business. With locations in the South Carolina cities of Conway, Hemingway, Holly Hill, Ladson, Sellers and St. Matthews that include two pick-a-part yards, DCC provides a variety of services, including automobile shredding, metal recycling and demolition.

The company’s Holly Hill yard is home to its auto shredder, which was installed in the early 1970s, when it was one of only 200 auto shredders in the U.S. and one of five in South Carolina, according to DCC.

To address the risk of fire at this location, DCC is working with U.S. Shredder and Castings Group, Miramar Beach, Florida, to install a Fire Rover system. Earlier this year, U.S. Shredder entered into an agreement with Southland, Michigan-based Fire Rover LLC to market its fire suppression system to the North American scrap industry.

Brewer says of DCC’s Fire Rover system “will detect a fire before it happens—that’s what sold us on it.”

The system at the Holly Hill site will be fully operational in June, Brewer says.

Usually, the system can be up and running the week it is delivered to a recycler. In DCC’s case, however, buildings interfered with the camera’s view of the areas in the yard that needed monitoring, and a 40-foot-high platform had to be constructed for the camera.

Detecting hot spots

The Fire Rover system employs thermal imaging and temperature monitoring to detect elevated temperatures in stockpiles of material that could lead to a fire.

The heart of the unit is the FLIR A310F thermal camera. It can pinpoint a heat source within two degrees of accuracy, regardless of what the ambient air temperature is. Brewer explains, “The camera is alerted if there is heat over a certain number of degrees.”

He says the system installed at DCC’s Holly Hill site is set to detect any hot spot with a temperature greater than 225 degrees. That catches potential problems when they still are in the smoldering state.

The thermal camera is designed to detect hot spots within two seconds of their development. Images are sent from the camera in the scrapyard to an IP (internet protocol) encoder at the off-site central monitoring station, which is staffed by people working around the clock for Southfield-based Watchdog Security, a company affiliated with Fire Rover.

Off-site monitors deploy foam to extinguish fires.

Watchdog Security is a security system provider that uses in-yard cameras and off-site personnel to monitor for intruders. In fact, Brewer says he is considering adding the company’s intruder-detection capability to his yards down the road.

Should the thermal camera detect a hot spot, an alarm is sent back to the central monitoring station, which can be miles from the recycling operation. It is staffed by professionals who are trained in a variety of emergency situations, from breaking glass at a storefront to thermal alarms.

These individuals can then take several actions, including deploying foam designed to extinguish fires.

When the conditions for a fire are detected, “Watchdog Security alerts the owner right away,” Brewer says.

If the situation gets worse, Watchdog will notify the local fire department.

“No matter how much you follow fire protocol, there is still the risk of fire,” says Lindsey Scharg, business development manager for Fire Rover and Watchdog.

“It’s impossible for one person or night watch to monitor an entire yard whether it is a half-acre or 10 acres,” Scharg says. “This system is a heck of a lot cheaper and more effective,” she says.

The Fire Rover system goes beyond sounding an alarm to extinguishing the fire, leaving sprinkler systems and the like to perform cleanup work.

Brewer says, “It is the only thing we found that offers mobile fire protection in a yard.”

Off-site monitors deploy foam to extinguish fires.

Knowing the enemy

Fire requires three things: fuel, air and heat. Take away any one or more of those three elements, and the fire is suppressed.

In an auto shredding operation, flammable materials are a given. Whether that material is stored outside or inside, plenty of oxygen is available, too. Any small, smoldering fire quickly can generate the heat required to feed the cycle.

The key to minimizing fire damage is to be able to detect fires in their infancy, well before they flare, and not to let them spiral out of control. The time to catch a fire is the instant a temperature increase is detected.

In general, two kinds of fuel are available to a fire: fast fuels, which cause rapid spread of the fire, and slow fuels, which burn slowly but persistently. Residual gasoline is the obvious fast fuel at an auto shredding yard. Wood fragments that occasionally get into the recycling stream are slow fuels. It takes something to get these heavy, slow fuels to burn; but, once they do, they can throw off large volumes of heat. Remember that heat is another of fire’s three key ingredients.

Taking action

Detecting a fire is only the first step. The next step is doing something about it.

“We have created a self-contained fire suppressant system,” Brad Gladstone, president of Watchdog and Fire Rover, says of the Fire Rover system.

The difference with the Fire Rover system is that it goes beyond sounding an alarm and actually responds to a budding fire, Brewer says.

Once the elevation in temperature is detected, human intervention from one of the off-site monitors is needed. Once a monitor confirms the situation, he or she uses a joystick on the console to turn the nozzle of the on-site fire suppression system in the direction of the fire, releasing a foaming agent that is designed to extinguish the fire.

A foaming agent deprives the fire of oxygen.

“Fire Rover has a foaming agent that is equivalent to 30,000 gallons of water,” Brewer says, which suffocates the fire.

“The fire should be extinguished within 30 seconds of detection,” Gladstone says.

An alarm sounds at the yard or an announcement is generated by the monitoring station, warning people in the vicinity of the fire that one has been detected and that foam will be deployed momentarily. The monitoring station has a traditional video camera view of the site, too, allowing the off-site monitor to delay spraying until people are clear of the area. Watchdog Security monitors also call the yard office to inform the company of the problem.

The fire suppression system dispenses an environmentally friendly Class A-F firefighting foam at a pressure of 150 pounds per square inch over a distance of up to 150 feet in most outdoor situations, according to Fire Rover. The foam, which is an Environmental Protection Agency-approved 98 percent organic material, literally suffocates the fire.

If you are picturing a giant covering of material much like shaving cream, you are not far from the mark. The idea is to deprive the fire of a key element: oxygen.

The foaming agent recommended for use in recycling operations must be something that will stunt and extinguish fires of all kinds, including metal, petroleum, plastic, agriculture and waste fires.

A foaming agent deprives the fire of oxygen.

Investing in prevention

Purchasing the Fire Rover system, such as the one at Brewer’s Holly Hill yard, includes an initial site survey and installation and life-time maintenance of a portable, self-contained monitoring unit. The package offers around-the-clock monitoring through Watchdog Security’s security camera system.

“It is expensive,” Brewer says of the fire monitoring system. “Still, a security guard is expensive, too. This seems to be a better option since you have it working 24 by 7.”

Scharg admits, “The camera is really expensive, but it has the ability to eliminate false alarms.” She adds, “It takes a specific recipe to eliminate the problem.”

The video system also gives real-time reporting, information for an incident report and video clips of the situation.

On a regular basis, the vendor sends out a technician to perform routine maintenance on the fire prevention system, which includes cleaning the thermal camera’s lens. The technician also ascertains that all other components of the system are in proper working order.

Regarding the installation of the Fire Rover system that is underway at his Holly Hill yard, Brewer says, “It gives me peace of mind.”

The author is a contributing editor to Recycling Today and can be contacted via email at curt@curtharler.com.