Playing with fire

By Robyn Grimsley

Fire is a notable hazard for machinery and vehicles used in the mining industry. The extremely dry conditions experienced in parts of the country make this issue more pressing than ever.

According to a report published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), 2017 was one of the three hottest years on record, with devastating wildfires raging across Europe, the US and even South Africa, putting the spotlight on the issue of fire suppression. And the Western Cape is currently experiencing its worst drought in a century, which combined with extreme temperatures, creates perfect conditions for uncontrolled wildfires.

truck fire-02
The DAFO wet chemical-based system distributed by Booyco Electronics can be used on a variety of surface and underground machinery.
Image credit: Rimex

Against this backdrop, fire protection should be front-of-mind for any mining operation, as the primary aim is to preserve and protect human life. Despite this, however, many mining operations that comply with fire regulations have not conducted a proper risk analysis, which can result in having systems and measures that are ineffective against the types of threats they face.

Myth-busting tests

I-CAT and other industry players spent two years conducting extensive industry tests at Sasol Secunda’s Twistdraai test facility to determine the effectiveness of water and foam mist systems on conveyor belt fires. During this time, it was discovered that widely-accepted fire suppression equipment failed badly, even in controlled test environments, raising the question of whether most firefighting products deployed in the mining industry, which originate from Europe and the US, have even been tested for harsh African conditions. The tests also conclusively prove that dry chemical powder extinguishers are ineffective against conveyor belt and tyre fires.

I-CAT fire solutions

South African environmental management company I-CAT recently established the I-CAT Fire Solutions division to offer a range of innovative fire suppression technologies and solutions to the industrial and mining sectors.

I-CAT’s Blaze Buster is a rapid-response, self-contained foam mist system comprising four 230ℓ self-contained and premixed foam cylinders with a large cannon and a retractable mist hose reel. The cannon has a discharge range of about 40m, and the hose reel is fitted with an additional gun that is used in conjunction with the cannon, enabling two fire-fighters to combat a fire simultaneously, increasing the effectiveness of the system dramatically. A total of 600ℓ of water and a continuous foam discharge duration of up to three minutes means its capacity is comparable to that of three commercial 8 500ℓ fire engines. The system weighs less than a tonne and can be fitted to a single or club / supercab pick-up or trailer.

“The main advantage of the system is that diesel engine, pumps, or any external water supply are not required,” Andro Gibhard explains. The foam unit also doesn’t require any start-up time, which means it is primed and ready for immediate deployment. Once used, the Blaze Buster can be reinstated on site rapidly by simply refilling the cylinders with the necessary quantity of water, using the measuring equipment that is included, and adding a 1% foam additive, also included. It is then repressurised within minutes with nitrogen.

I-CAT also has a product range specifically designed to deal with vehicle fires – a significant risk for both man and machine, given harsh mining conditions and confined spaces. Vehicle fires occur when least expected, and can cause major damage to equipment, resulting in production losses and, more importantly, may result in human fatalities. I-CAT’s TRT-VPS-FM vehicle protection system is designed to protect valuable production vehicles and assets against fire, while its TRT-LPS-FM local protection system is designed to protect production and industry equipment such as transformers, hydraulic power packs, conveyor belts (high risk areas like tail, head and tensioner pulleys) and fuel storage tanks.

“Our T-Rotor Water Mist patented fire suppression system is a new concept in South Africa, but I think the industry is ready for something new,” says I-CAT director, Anton van der Merwe. “The response has been really positive, particularly in the mining and industrial sectors. We’ve had people come from as far away as Mozambique and Zambia to attend our live demonstrations and see our fire suppression systems in action. Sasol Secunda, for example, recently adopted both our fire extinguishers and the Roto-Fire-Pac backpack extinguishing system.”

The FST Fire Orb is a unique self-activating, portable fire-extinguishing device that activates automatically when in contact with open flames.
Image credit: Fire & Security TechniquesThe Blaze Buster is a rapid-response, self-contained foam mist system that can be fitted to a single or club/supercab pick-up or trailer.
Image credit: I-CATI-CAT demonstrated its fully mechanical system for transformers on a small demonstration unit.
Image credit: Robyn Grimsley
The DAFO wet chemical-based system distributed by Booyco Electronics can be used on a variety of surface and underground machinery.
Image credit: Rebrn.comThe final demonstration on the day entailed setting alight the on-site structure, and then extinguishing the fire using I-CAT’s vehicle-mounted Blaze Buster system.
Image credit: Robyn GrimsleyThe fire suppression and cooling capabilities of the TRT-VPS-FM vehicle protection system were demonstrated using a constructed vehicle engine bay.
Image credit: Robyn Grimsley

Speaking of the I-CAT extinguishers, Marco Biffi, lead for mine ventilation at Anglo American, says, “The principle is exciting because it combines both cooling and knockdown capacity. I have had the opportunity to use traditional dry powder extinguishers on a fire – we used about 80 extinguishers, but that wasn’t enough to put it out, and the fire ended up burning down a transformer of a main hoist on surface, leaving us standing for a few months.”

“What I like about the system is that it is both compact and effective,” Biffi adds, “and its rapid cooling effect prevents reignition. There are a lot of positives from what I can see: it's innovative, it's made locally, and its customisable depending on the exact requirements of the mine site.”

One challenge affects uptake of the technology is that much of the equipment used in mining and construction comes into South Africa with factory-fitted fire suppression technology already in place. “When the machine arrives, you want to get it on site and produce as soon as possible,” says Biffi. “What you don’t want is to have it standing around for another three weeks so that a custom fire suppression system can be installed.”

In addition to the excellent performance of I-CAT’s fire suppression technology, Van der Merwe adds that there is another reason to look at the company’s fire suppression solutions.

“All of our applications and product offerings are environmentally friendly, because they use water rather than chemicals, and so there is no danger of contaminated runoff,” he explains. “Even the extinguishers that include a foaming agent are more environmentally friendly than similar products on the market, partly because of the additive itself, and partly because we only add 0.5% foaming agent to the mix, compared to about 6% the industry usually adds.”


The ROTO-FIRE-PAC backpack extinguishing system makes use of patented T-Rotor misting technology to extinguish all classes of fires using foam mist as the agent. The system creates a fine atomised mist charged with kinetic energy to penetrate the heat radiation caused by a fire. The gradual cooling does not cause thermal shock to the equipment, and 0.5% Telesolv AFFF ‘green’ foaming agent is added to the system to prevent any B class fire from spreading when fuel or hydraulic lines rupture.

With traditional water jet systems, only about 5% of the water directed at the fire effectively applies to extinguishing the fire. The remaining 95% floods the surroundings, causing post-fire damage. Due to its vast evaporation surface, and depending on the dispersion degree, T-Rotor misting technology ensures that 100% of the water evaporates in the fire.

The ROTO-FIRE-PAC is effective in extinguishing fires in solid substances; plastics; light, medium and heavy oil fractions; polar liquids; and edible oil.

Fire Orbs

Centurion-based Fire and Security Techniques recently introduced an easy-to-use, cost-effective new fire-extinguishing device to the local market – the FST Fire Orb, a unique, self-activating, portable fire-extinguishing device that activates automatically when in contact with open flames.

Effective for use against all types and classes of fires, from electrical shortages to vehicle, workshop and factory fires, the FST Fire Orbs can be wall-mounted for maximum effectiveness, according to Fire and Security Techniques CEO, Neil Hughes.

Each FST Fire Orb weighs only 1.3kg, making it lightweight and easy to handle and operate and comprises a lightweight case of frangible material, with a protective exterior sheathing. The internal cavity contains a pyrotechnic detonator at or near the centre of mass.

Activated by fuse cords extending to the surface, the device is filled with monoammonium phosphate, a non-conductive dry chemical powder, which means it can be used on any electrical product without resultant damage. The detonator incorporated in the FST Fire Orb is a small, non-lethal explosive mechanism. The use of low-density, low-mass components means that no part of the device has sufficient mass or density to constitute a ballistic hazard or result in concussive shock.

The FST Fire Orb activates automatically upon direct contact with open flames rather than heat, and is simply rolled or thrown into the fire, where it activates within three to seven seconds. Upon activation, it emits a loud bang of between 119dB and 138dB as a warning signal and disperses the dry chemical powder to extinguish the fire.

The FST Fire Orbs have passed tests conducted by the PSB Corporation and Sirim Qas International for Class A, B and C fires. Additional tests carried out include thermal resistance, burst effect, sound level, compression resistance and drop tests. The devices are regulated and certified in accordance with ISO 9001: 2001 and have also been approved and classified by the South African Police Service.

“We offer a free risk-assessment service for all clients interested in the product, where our risk-assessment manager advises suitable installation requirements pertaining to customer specifications,” says Hughes. “The product is far more effective than traditional fire extinguishers, which must be operated manually to be effective. In addition, fire extinguishers have no fire-alert activation to warn any bystanders and are bulky devices that weigh 10kg to 15kg on average.”

DAFO and FirePro

Another company to embrace the heat dispersion and cooling aspects of fire suppression is Booyco Electronics, which recently added fire suppression technologies to its product offering to help customers manage their health and safety risk.

This follows the company’s appointment as preferred distributor for Advanced Automation Systems (AAS), the exclusive marketer of the DAFO brand of vehicle fire protection and FirePro aerosol-based extinguishing systems in South Africa.

“It was a natural extension of our business to move into fire suppression,” says managing director, Anton Lourens. According to Lourens, the effectiveness of fire detection and suppression systems is becoming a more urgent issue for mines as new SANS standards are formulated for fire detection and suppression systems on heavy-duty mining machines.

The technological advances built into the DAFO and FirePro products are particularly important given the ongoing quest for more effective technical and bottom line performance. The DAFO products, which hail from Sweden, include a wet chemical-based system engineered to inhibit the chemical reaction of the fire while extensively cooling the hot surface and creating a film to prevent further re-ignition. “Cooling is vital if the fire is to be completely extinguished and for no possibility of re-ignition to exist,” says Lourens.

The DAFO wet chemical-based system distributed by Booyco Electronics can be used on a variety of surface and underground machinery.
Image credit: RimexI-CAT’s Fire Division hosts monthly fire information sessions, combined with live fire demonstrations, at the South African Emergency Care fire-training facility at Modderfontein.
Image credit: Robyn GrimsleyThe final demonstration on the day entailed setting alight the on-site structure, and then extinguishing the fire using I-CAT’s vehicle-mounted Blaze Buster system.
Image credit: Robyn GrimsleyThe final demonstration on the day entailed setting alight the on-site structure, and then extinguishing the fire using I-CAT’s vehicle-mounted Blaze Buster system.
Image credit: Robyn GrimsleyWhile traditional dry powder extinguishers put fires out, the lack of surface cooling leaves the way open for re-ignition.
Image credit: Robyn Grimsley

The use of a wet chemical system rather than dry chemical powder also reduces maintenance requirements, as it is not affected by the vibration of the machine and is non-corrosive, non-toxic, environmentally friendly and water soluble. The system can be used on load-haul dumpers, utility vehicles and other underground machinery, as well as surface shovels and haulers. It is also suitable for conveyors and other materials handling equipment.

FirePro Systems is also a global brand, with installations in more than 110 countries. In contrast to traditional methods, FirePro aerosol extinguishes fire by inhibiting the chain chemical reactions present in combustion on a molecular level – removing the flame free radicals and extinguishing fire without depleting oxygen. The aerosol is stored as a solid and under no pressure which gives the product an extended life span with virtually no maintenance requirements. The FirePro products are non-corrosive, non-conductive, non-toxic and environmentally friendly.

These systems can therefore protect enclosures of any volumetric size, from less than a cubic metre to thousands of cubic metres. This makes them suitable for equipment such as motor control centres, electrical panels, substations, mini-substations, e-houses and electrical mining skids.

“Both the DAFO and FirePro offerings come with environmental advantages, which will be required by the new standards on fire suppression,” says Lourens. “The standards also include a performance test, to ensure that the technology offered is fit-for-purpose and reliable before it can be approved.”


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