Rural Fire Service trucks a fire hazard

Rural Fire Service trucks a fire hazard

01 October 2010

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USA —  NEW bushfire tankers cannot be parked near long grass or leaves for fear the eco-friendly exhausts will start a fire.

On the eve of the bushfire season, which starts today, Rural Fire Service volunteers in NSW said “lives could be at risk”.

“Imagine that on your conscience,” one volunteer said. “You go out to fight a fire and end up starting one yourself.”

Volunteers, who wished to remain anonymous, said some firefighters demonstrated the risk by holding a piece of paper about 30cm from the exhaust.

“It caught fire in 20 seconds,” a volunteer said. “When I first heard about it I said, ‘You’re joking’.”

The F-series Isuzu Category 1 bushfire tankers are fitted with a diesel particulate diffuser, essentially a filter that traps the black smoke emitted by diesel engines.

The filter super-heats the trapped particles reducing raw emissions by up to 80 per cent during a 20-minute burn-off. The burn-offs or “regenerations” can be initiated manually but once the filters reach capacity they can trigger without warning.

In an instructional video Isuzu warned of the danger but claimed regenerations were rarely needed unless the trucks were used for a lot of stop-start driving or they were left idling for long periods.

Firefighters need to keep engines idling while fighting fires so they can operate water pumps and to keep the batteries from going dead.

The Isuzu owner’s manual explicitly warns about the potential fire danger, explaining that the regeneration should not occur near any flammable material.

Auto industry and safety expert John Cadogan said the diesel filters posed a greater fire risk than those not fitted with the diesel filter system, “particularly on an extreme low-humidity day”.

He said while firefighters were trained not to park on dry grass it was not always possible in real life situations. Opposition emergency services spokeswoman Melinda Pavey said the issue was a major safety concern.

“The last thing we want is our own trucks catching fire,” she said.

A spokesman for Emergency Services Minister Steve Whan said it was “not appropriate for the minister’s office to comment about operational matters”.

RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said he had not been alerted to the concerns.

He said 146 new trucks fitted with DPD exhausts had been delivered in the past 12 months. He said it was against general firefighting practice to park trucks in long grass, near dense vegetation or unburned country.

“Now that you’ve raised it with me I will be feeding it back to the consultative committee,” he said.

He said the vehicles, except when in the burn-off mode, ran at a cooler temperature than previous fire trucks and did not pose any fire risk greater than an ordinary car did.

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