Fire Safety During Harvest

October 16, 2015

Fire Safety During Harvest

Harvest is always a busy time of year. The past week and the week ahead will see a lot of this year’s crop being harvested after a wet start in late September. However, we can’t let the rush to get crops harvested come before safety.

Besides my job for Nebraska Extension, I have another job... that of a volunteer fireman for over 30 years. Each year we anticipate problems at this time because harvest is a time of year when we have an increased number of calls.

The majority of seasonal calls we get at this time of year are for field fires. Here are several ways you can reduce the potential of a fire during harvest.

Identify and monitor potential hazards on the combine.
•    Do a "dry run" of the combine before entering the field to listen for worn bearings or moving parts and check for any over-heated bearings. Push/pull shafts and sheaves often to check for worn bearings.

•    Check wires and wiring harnesses for damaged insulation to prevent an electrical short. If you're having problems with blown fuses, try to find the source of the problem instead of constantly replacing the fuse. Exposed wires could be causing the short and creating sparks which could start a fire.

•    Never put in a fuse with higher capacity than those recommended as the wires may overheat and start a fire.

•    As harvest continues, those outside the combine should listen and watch for potential problems.

•    If you're using other equipment (grain cart or rotary mower) in the field during harvest, also keep an eye on it for possible problems.

Clean debris from your combine before and at regular intervals during harvest.

•    Clean any area where chaff or plant material accumulates often, especially those near moving parts. Check areas around the engine, exhaust manifold, fan shrouds, fuel/oil tanks, and chaff spreaders to ensure they are free of debris. Using a leaf blower or compressed air tank is an easy way to remove debris material that builds up on the combine.

•    Closely monitor any belts that are frayed or worn as they can produce enough heat to start a fire.

•    Any time you think you smell smoke, stop and examine the combine completely. Chaff and plant materials may smolder for some time before an actual fire starts, sometimes even after the combine has been shut down.

Take precautionary measures and be prepared to respond if a fire does occur.

•    When harvesting on windy days, if possible, start on the downwind side of the field. This way, in case a fire does occur, at least the wind will carry it away from the standing crop.

•    Consider carrying a water tank with a pump to the field and always keep a fire extinguisher handy.

•    Some growers keep a tractor with a tillage implement close by to till a fire break if necessary.

•    Most recommend keeping at least two fire extinguishers with the combine at harvest — one in the cab and one accessible from ground level. Check your fire extinguishers annually to ensure they are charged properly and always remember proper extinguisher use.

•    If you have to use a fire extinguisher, remember PASS... P-A-S-S... which stands for Pull, Aim, Squeeze & Sweep. Pull the safety pin on the extinguisher, Aim it at the base of the fire, Squeeze the handle, and Sweep the extinguisher back and forth while releasing the contents.

If a fire does occur, always remember that your personal safety is the most important thing. Don't put yourself or others in any unnecessary risk. Always call 911 as soon as you notice a fire, then try to put it out.