© A Stockphoto / stock.adobe.com

Fire is inevitable in recycling operations. At least that’s the conclusion many insurers have reached as incidences of insured and uninsured fire losses in all sectors of the recycling industry have increased dramatically in recent years, says Don Denbo, president of Commercial Insurance Associates, Nashville, Tennessee. The monetary impact of these losses has led insurers to restrict or simply not insure recyclers, he adds.

To help recycling business owners, operators and environment, health and safety (EH&S) professionals better understand and mitigate potential fire risks, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington, has released its “Guide to Creating a Fire Prevention and Management Plan.” ISRI says the guidance document was developed by fire science, insurance and scrap recycling professionals.

Scott Wiggins, vice president of EH&S at ISRI, says, “Even if your facility has an existing plan, this is a valuable tool to help you review your operations and make any necessary improvements.”

Tony Smith, a safety outreach director with ISRI, adds, “We want to make sure recyclers know how to protect themselves and know how to set up their facilities” to be able to respond to a fire most effectively.

While Smith says ISRI cannot create a one-size-fits-all plan for fire prevention and management because all recycling facilities have their nuances, all effective plans must take into account fire protection, incipient stage firefighting and crisis management planning for fires that get out of control.

The guide itself notes, “This is a guidance document on how to prepare a plan. It IS NOT designed to provide a template for such a plan. The authors suggest that this entire document—and not just sections of this document—be considered as guidance in preparing a plan.”

Smith stresses that recyclers must address all three areas of the guidance document in their planning. “If all you look at is prevention, then you are going to be behind the eight ball in incipient stage firefighting and crisis management.”

The key to success, he adds, is “plan, plan, plan.”

Plan to protect

“Unfortunately, it’s best to plan for a fire,” Smith says. Despite that, recyclers should take steps to lessen risk, including ensuring good separation between piles and buildings and other assets. “Good housekeeping is a must.”

Smith recommends maintaining 20 feet between material piles as well as between a pile and a building or asset. The municipality a recycler operates in might specify pile height maximums. He suggests consulting with the local fire chief to ensure a company is adhering to regulations.

“Look at the facility for major fire hazards,” Smith advises. The scale should receive a good deal of scrutiny in terms of what a facility accepts and how vigilant the crew is in inspecting incoming material, he adds. Employees should be on the lookout for potential ignition sources, such as propane tanks, lithium-ion batteries and hydraulic fluid. Dry vegetation on the perimeter of a property that could add fuel to a fire also should be considered, Smith says.

For scrap yards that operate an auto shredder, ISRI’s guidance suggests developing a separate plan for this area.

“Drilling down to that section of the facility is really important,” Smith says, because of the potential ignition sources that could be hidden in the feedstock.

The document notes the minimum elements of a fire prevention plan, including listing all major fire hazards, proper handling and storage procedures for hazardous materials, potential ignition sources, the type of fire protection equipment needed to control each major hazard and procedures to control accumulated flammable and combustible materials.

Smith suggests establishing relationships with the local fire department and other first responders and encourages company owners and managers to invite firefighters to walk through their facilities. “You have a business to run, so it is hard to find time; but, you also have a business to protect, so you should find time to do these things.”

He also advises giving firefighters all-hours access to a recycling facility by using an emergency key box. “That keeps them from having to knock down a fence or wall,” which can lead to additional damage beyond that created by the fire.

Plan for incipient firefighting

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and National Fire Protection Association define an incipient fire as a fire in the initial or beginning stage that can be controlled or extinguished without the need for protective clothing or a breathing apparatus.

For incipient fires outdoors, ISRI says recyclers should consider techniques in addition to fire extinguishers and fire hoses, such as fire suppression generators, large water totes and remote fixed monitoring and extinguishing systems.

It also is a good idea to train heavy equipment operators on how to keep a fire in a material pile small by segregating the burning material, ISRI suggests.

Should a fire ignite, Smith recommends calling firefighters right away, even if it appears the fire is under control.

Plan for crisis management

If a fire gets out of control, a crisis management plan will be necessary, according to ISRI’s guidance. Such plans should be developed prior to an incident and should consider environmental impacts, communication with employees and their families, business interruption plans, insurance notification and notification of applicable regulatory agencies.

Smith suggests communicating with community officials—such as the mayor or county executive, conservation officer and department of environmental protection—and local media about the incident, an area recyclers might overlook.

“Preparation is the key to success” when it comes to media relations, he adds.

ISRI’s plan and process for fire prevention and response go beyond the guidance document, Smith says. ISRI also intends to send fire safety professionals to its chapter meetings to present on the guidance. “We need to get out there and get people to realize the need to be proactive instead of reactive.”

He adds, “The problem won’t easily go away, but this is the best approach to at least knock it down quite a bit.”

The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at dtoto@gie.net.