Steps can be taken to protect barns

Are your barns safe from the trauma a fire would bring? To reduce these tragedies, Humane Society International/Canada is calling on governments to legislate better safety criteria for confined animals.

There are things an individual farmer can do to be in compliance with proposed safety standards, said Riana Topan, farm animal welfare specialist for the group. She said a recent humane society report includes basic recommendations for producers who want to reduce the fire risk for their livestock.

“Based on the research we did, we’ve pulled out some of the most important steps a farmer can take to improve the safety of his animals,” said Topan. There are 22 recommendations and the main six are covered here.

“These are concrete things a farmer can implement on his farm, such as water storage on site or barn blueprints and fire plan ready in the house so they can share them with first responders.

“Until we did this report, there simply wasn’t much information available on barn fires and what you can do about them. It’s not only the tragedy of animals, there’s also the economic impact and the impact in the community.

“And I think farmers themselves can encourage governments to establish criteria for things like industrial-calibre fire detection systems and sprinkler systems. Farmers have the ability to lobby for a better fire safety code.”

Water is the top priority. Few farms have access to water pipelines. Water tanks on fire trucks have a limited volume. A water source must be able to support high-volume, high-pressure pumpers and be easily accessible. Irrigation wells and ponds should be close enough to barn structures to be considered as a reliable water source. If a nearby dugout is used, a pump-out hole should be kept open through the winter.

Automatic sprinkler systems are the ideal method for saving barns and livestock. The water starts spraying as soon as the detection system senses fire.

However, a sprinkler is of no value unless it is automatically fed by a reliable source of water and power. The system should have its own dedicated power generator away from the barn in case of power outages.

Smoke, heat and carbon monoxide detection should be installed to allow the quickest automatic alert to first responders and the farmer. A combination of flashing lights in visible locations and alarms that can be heard from inside and outside the building should also be installed. Thermographic inspections should be conducted annually. Some insurance companies offer this as a service to policyholders. Detailed electrical inspections should also be conducted annually.

An electrical system that passes inspection one year may have developed problems by the following year, caused by rodents and moisture.

Fire separation should be employed in all new barn construction. Firewalls consist of hollow concrete blocks. A firewall provides a 60-minute window of fire containment.

In comparison Douglas fir only provides 30 minutes of containment. A firewall with a 60-minute rating should enclose the standby generators and all equipment rooms. Fire separation measures allow for farmers and fire departments to extinguish fire before it spreads through the building.

“Fire spreads by radiation to neighbouring buildings when materials absorb enough heat and begin to smoulder and then burn. Providing enough distance between all buildings helps minimize heat gain between the source of the fire and the surfaces of adjacent buildings,” the report said.

“This distance gives firefighters the opportunity to apply water to the nearby building surfaces in an effort to reduce surface temperatures of both the burning barn and neighboring buildings.”

Fire extinguishers are of little value in fighting a full force fire once it gains a foothold, but they can contain small fires at the source.

All barn structures that house animals should be equipped with a minimum of a five-pound ABC extinguisher at every exit and in all mechanical, electrical and feed rooms, the report recommends.

Any room with a standby generator should be equipped with a minimum 10-pound ABC fire extinguisher.

All staff who work in the barn should be trained in the use of fire extinguishers and should have practice drills once a year.

Annual fire department inspections can catch hazards that farmers may not be aware of. Inspections will reduce the chances of fire caused by combustible materials such as hay near heating devices or mechanical equipment and ensuring combustibles are not stored under electrical panels.

Fire departments make sure heating devices meet the required safety distances and have the necessary barriers to ensure animals cannot reach them.

Farmers are responsible for educating themselves about the hazard of barn fires and for training employees on necessary firefighting measures. This training should cover the proper use and location of fire extinguishers, an evacuation plan for employees and animals and instructions on any other prevention and suppression tools the farm provides.

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