As Kansas puts the latest round of unseasonably cold weather in the past, many farmers are beginning to work on getting equipment ready for this year's winter wheat harvest, which normally would be coming up in just a few weeks and this year is probably a couple of months away.
One tool for the combine that bears checking and re-checking is the fire extinguisher, says Colby assistant fire chief Sean Hankin. Having an extinguisher at hand and in good operating condition be the difference between a minor incident and a disaster, Hankin to the annual safety meeting of the U.S. Custom Harvesters Association.
Hankin told custom cutting crews that even a single use of a fire extinguisher that uses up only a small percentage of the chemical inside means that extinguisher needs to be serviced.
"Often, right after use, it will still be showing plenty of pressure," he said. "But over time, if the chemical has gotten into the nozzles with use, then it will slowly diminish over time. The bottom line is if you use it, it needs to be serviced."
The least expensive extinguisher is also one that can be serviced in the farm shop, he said. That is a simple 2.5 gallon water extinguisher which has been pressurized with a standard shop air compressor. He recommended adding one to two ounces of dishwashing soap to each extinguisher, because the soap helps the water cling to surfaces and enhances its performance.
A water extinguisher can be used to put out the commonest combine and tractor fires – those that start because of a buildup of chaff or grain dust on the tractor or combine.
"Water will put out any Class A fire, a fire that burns a material that produces an ash," Hankin said. "That makes it a very useful fire extinguisher on the combine."
Stopping fires before they happen
He urged all crews to help prevent fires by thoroughly cleaning the combine and tractor at the end of each day.
"That, combined with checking carefully for loose wiring, cracked or broken insulation, lubricating bearings and tightening belts gives you a good start on preventing the most common fires," he said.
For immediate response to fuel fires or electrical fires, Hankin advised crews to carry a chemical extinguisher capable of putting out diesel fuel or electrical fires as well as chaff or straw fires. These are commonly referred to as "five-pounders" or "ten-pounders" he said and should be carried on the back of the combine or tractor.
He cautioned, however, that the chemicals in those extinguishers are extremely corrosive.
"If you do use them in the cab of the combine, you should be aware that a lot of damage can occur from the chemicals as well as from any fire," he said.