The last three months were the worst on record since I started reporting fire incidents at waste and recycling facilities in early 2016. In March, we incurred 31 reported fire incidents and in April, we incurred 45 fires at recycling facilities. waste and recycling, which was a historical record. Then comes May, when we find 44 fire incidents at our waste and recycling facilities in the US and Canada. To put this in perspective, in March-May of last year, we faced just 71 fires in total, compared to the same period this year of 120. That number far exceeded the average number of fires we’ve seen in the last five years. , including the start of the 2018 lithium-ion wave, where we incurred 116 fires during the same time. In Fire River, we responded to 88 fire incidents at our customers’ facilities to follow up on the April 74th.
Fire incidents in March, April and May are not an aberration. The increase in fire incidents is not a one-off thing, but based on a few key factors in the waste and recycling supply chain. To put this in historical perspective, I updated the annual incident data to include the 2,021 numbers. The numbers are based on the trend for the first five months of this year, but as you can clearly see, if things don’t change, we will be facing the worst year for fires at our waste and recycling facilities since I started keeping records in 2016.
Is there a specific sector that is driving the increase in fire incidents?
Inside last month’s article, I analyzed the materials sectors where we observed fires and it seemed that we were in line with the historical percentages by individual sector. There have been times in the past when certain materials constituted a higher percentage of fire incidents and skewed the numbers even further. This month, I took my analysis one step further by updating my material report to year-to-date numbers against historical trend.
As you can see, our materials sectors are very close to historical trends. The problem is the number of fire incidents we are experiencing. If we keep this pace, we will end the year with an all-time high in waste, paper and plastic fires at an estimated 183 fire incidents, scrap fires at an estimated 132 fire incidents and construction and demolition fires at an estimated 19 fire incidents .
What possible factors led to the increase in fires?
When most people ask me about the possible factors causing these fire incidents, I usually provide the list below.
- Traditional fire hazards: Unknown fuel hazards (ie aerosols, butane cans, chemicals, hot ash, paints, fireworks). These are the same dangers we’ve seen in our material for decades.
- Lithium Ion Batteries: In addition to a large number of these batteries being manufactured and incorrectly placed in our waste and recycling streams, they are combustible and their size makes them nearly impossible to remove from processing streams.
- Heat / Dry Environments: We see an increase in fires during the summer months, but when we see weather patterns that are dry and hot, we see peaks during other times of the year.
- inherent risk: Recycling of hazardous chemicals and materials has an explosion and built-in fuel risk, especially when temperature rise is required as part of the recycling process.
- Sparks / Hot Works: As buildings / equipment age or volumes increase, more work is required to maintain the equipment.
- Arson: Competitive and desperate operators.
It is no secret that, due to the factors listed above, I believe there is an inherent risk of fire in our waste and recycling operations. Operators have many approaches to dealing with these risks, including education, operational best practices, and investment in fire detection and firefighting technologies that can best address this inherent risk. The industry is better prepared now that it has been able to deal with all the dangers we face, so what is causing this increase?
The questions we need to ask ourselves during this peak are what risks have been potentially exasperated from the list above, or what other factors we may face over the past few months. In my opinion, we are dealing with the perfect storm of lithium-ion battery proliferation, a warmer spring across the country, and some new factors that have been introduced by the pandemic recovery, resulting in increased material and understaffed.
- Lithium Ion Batteries – The number of personal storage and consumer electronics products continues to grow and is present in all aspects of our waste streams and recycling. Educating and implementing the best fire prevention tactics is great, but we need to bend over and take other steps to eliminate this problem, such as using early detection and fire suppression solutions that solve the problem before it becomes a big problem.
- Warm – I don’t go as far as some blaming climate change on the increased heat we face this year, but no one can argue that when the environment is warmer it equates to more fires in our waste and recycling streams. We’ve seen this trend consistently each year during the “summer peak” of reported fires.
- Augmented Material – Most people in the business will tell you that they have experienced an increase in material tonnage over the past few months. As Americans continue to venture out of their homes, back to the office and eating in restaurants again, we are starting to see increasing levels of material that we haven’t seen since before the pandemic. The more material we process, the greater the chance of a fire.
- shortage of staff – If you talk to someone who owns or runs a business, most of them will tell you how difficult it is to find, train and maintain a team. Add to that the challenges of the pandemic, including social distancing and stay-at-home orders, and we’re faced with a staff shortage we haven’t seen in decades. In waste and recycling, if you don’t have enough staff to run your shifts, this equates to slower processing time for the material, leaving more material on your supply floors and in raw material piles, increasing the risk of fire . .
We expect the effect of the pandemic to scale over time as we normalize staff and train new employees, plan for more consistent demand, and put less pressure on the system. The pandemic has confused many industries, and our waste and recycling operators have done an incredible job of planning for the unplanned and reacting relatively quickly to the ever-changing economic and environmental climate. It’s time to get back to basics and prepare for the future.
As the pandemic subsides and we start traveling and meeting in person again, I look forward to the opportunity to meet our industry colleagues to discuss their insights and approaches to dealing with our fire issues at WasteExpo 2021 later this month. I will be moderating a session entitled “Assessing risk from the insurer’s point of view,“Holded on Wednesday, June 30 at 11:45 AM (Pacific Time) in Room N227, which I believe is extremely timely as we continue on the path to maintaining healthy insurance options for our industry colleagues.
The purpose of this session is to provide a brief introduction to the challenges and opportunities of insurance in our industry and to have an interactive conversation between carriers and insurers to identify what we need to do from both an industry and individual carrier perspective to engage in healthy insurance Marketplace. If you would like to know more or submit questions before the event, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to seeing you all at WasteExpo 2021!
Ryan Fogelman, JD / MBA, is Fire Rover’s Vice President of Strategic Partnerships. He is focused on bringing innovative safety solutions to market, and two of his solutions have won the distinguished Edison Innovation Award for Industrial Safety and Consumer Products. He has been compiling and publishing the “US/CAN Annual Waste and Recycling Facility Fire Report” since February 2016 and the “Annual Waste and Recycling Facility Fire Report”. Fogelman regularly speaks about the scope of fire problems facing the waste and recycling industries, detection solutions, proper fire planning and early stage fire risk mitigation. In addition, Fogelman serves on the National Fire Protection Association’s Hazardous Materials Technical Committee. (Connect with Ryan on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ryanjayfogelman or email in email@example.com)