Safety issues related to vehicle fires have been a long-time problem. Not only do large-scale fires involving commercial vehicles cause personal injury and property loss, but they also affect businesses by causing interruptions. Fire prevention in commercial vehicles should be a primary concern for manufacturers, operators, and maintainers.
Government regulations put in place and enforced by the U.S.D.O.T. and the C.V.S.A. are an attempt to get operators and maintainers to inspect and repair their vehicles. This has had some positive effects, but not enough to ensure vehicle safety. Unfortunately, economic stresses work against the enforcement of these new regulations. Therefore, it is up to the motor carrier to self-enforce inspections and repairs of at-risk vehicles.
Component/system knowledge is the key to preventing vehicle fires, and the occurrence of fires can begin to be minimized when their cause and origin are fully understood. If you know the root cause(s) of the fire, various product redesigns, system upgrades and maintenance processes can be developed to aid in the prevention and/or detection of an on-board fire. A method combining mechanical engineering, fire science, basic vehicle mechanics and forensic methods has been developed to determine the cause of large commercial fires¹. Once potential hazards are identified, then the care and maintenance of each hazard can be monitored. Additionally, cause and origin analyses can lead to much-needed design improvements.
When armed with system/component knowledge, as well as the knowledge of mechanical/electrical causes of fire, operators, maintainers, designers, and manufacturers can begin to mitigate or eliminate fires, ultimately saving human lives and costly damage to property.
CHRISTOPHER FERRONE, B.S. E. M., is a mechanical expert at ARCCA with extensive experience, particularly related to the design, function and maintenance of automotive and heavy vehicles. Mr. Ferrone is a Certified Master Heavy Duty Truck Technician and Certified Brake Inspector and specializes in accident analysis, reconstruction, failure analysis, and computer engineering.