Like many fire districts in rural Wisconsin, it can take more than 20 minutes to reach parts of the Pittsville fire district, according to Pittsville Fire Chief Gerald Minor.
In those 20 minutes, a fire can cause catastrophic damage. Because of that, Minor said fire prevention is extremely important for farm and home safety in rural areas.
“Prevention, for the people who live a long way from us, is probably even more important for them,” he said. “The amount of damage that can be done in a 20-minute period is quite astronomical. Fire doubles in size every minute depending on what the fire load is in the building. The farther you are away from a fire department the more fire safe you need to be.”
Minor, who has been in the fire service industry for 42 years, said a fire department’s responsibility is not only to fight fires, but to also prevent them from happening.
“If we get called to a fire, then prevention didn’t work,” Minor said during the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Oct. 22 Dairy Signal held during October’s National Fire Prevention Month.
Minor recommended farmers check fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and have a safety plan in place for their operation.
On farms, Minor said responses for fires caused by hot hay have dropped significantly since large round bales started to increase in prevalence on the landscape. But for anyone who does still store hay in a building, hot hay can still be a concern.
For round bale storage, Minor recommended leaving fire lanes between rows.
“A round bale fire is like a mattress fire,” he said. “They’re very difficult to put out. They take thousands and thousands of gallons of water. If you can separate rows, you’ll save some of your product.”
To prevent equipment fires, Minor recommended keeping things like combines clean from dust after use and keeping a fire extinguisher onboard.
“Having fire-suppression equipment on your tractor is just as important as in your car or in your house,” he said. “It’s a lot cheaper to own a bunch of fire extinguishers than it is to replace equipment or a shed or certainly the house.”
For on equipment, Minor recommended 10-pound ABC extinguishers, which cover ordinary combustibles, gasses and oils and electrical fires.
“A 10-pounder on a combine or tractor might look a little big, but it puts out more fire than the small two and a half-pounder you might see on a boat,” he said. “Those don’t put out a lot of fire. They’re more of an ornament than a suppression tool.”
In buildings, Minor said the number of fire extinguishers needed depends on the building’s size, and he recommends keeping extinguishers near exits to keep them accessible.
“If you open a door and are met with smoke, if you store them near the door, you might be able get to them,” he said.
The Pittsville fire district is 300 square miles and is all rural, which can present challenges during a response to an emergency. Minor said fall brings more farm accidents in his area and around the state with the harvest season and farmers working long hours trying to get things done when the weather is cooperating.
With farm footprints growing, Minor recommends farmers use a tool called Farm Mapping to Assist, Protect and Prepare Emergency Responders, or Farm MAPPER, a program created by the National Farm Medicine Center to show emergency responders information about hazards, resources and physical layouts of agricultural operations.
“Fire departments need to know what’s in their area,” he said. “Fire departments should know where the problems are before they have to respond.
“This is one of the best tools available to help plan for an incident. The farmer and the fire department work together, and we pre-identify as many problems as we can.”
Farmers use the program to place icons on their farm map, making the information accessible to emergency responders in the fire station to assist responders in responding to farm emergencies.
“When I leave the fire station with a crew, I want to come back with the same crew, so I like to know as much about the facility as possible,” Minor said. “At 3 a.m., a manure pit doesn’t look like a manure pit, and if it doesn’t have a fence around it, my people can walk right into it.
“Any hazard we can think of, we identify ahead of time. And it helps the farm look at, ‘are there things I can do to reduce the risk of having an incident in the first place.’”