Poor maintenance and bad operator practice are some of the biggest contributors to fires in mining vehicles, I-CAT’s Head of the Fire division, Andro Gibhard, points out. In some cases, the fire suppression system installation itself was deemed erroneously to be the cause of a fire, as the suppression hoses allegedly chafed against the fuel or hydraulic lines, thus causing them to rupture and spray fuel on hot engine surfaces.
One of the biggest underground fires in South Africa to date was attributed to an operator running a vehicle with the emergency brake engaged. Parked next to other vehicles during a shift change, the brakes overheated to the point where the tyres began to burn. With no one present to douse the fire early enough, it spread quickly to other vehicles, leading to the nightmare scenario of the mine having to close the shaft due to the danger posed.
“The fact that a mining vehicle is fitted with a fire-suppression system is meaningless if it is not accompanied by an action plan in the event of an incident, as well as proper training of operators on how to respond in the event of any fire incidents.” A major problem in the mining industry is that customers often install fire-suppression systems simply in order to be compliant, without proper understanding of the system itself, or its specific requirements.
“Most procurement decisions about what to install are based on cost, which often means the cheapest system is installed, and not necessarily the correct system for that particular application,” Gibhard highlights. I-CAT strongly recommends a proper risk assessment, especially given that the same mining vehicle might have a totally different risk assessment in two different environments.
“A major factor easily overlooked is that fire-suppression systems are generally not installed to protect the vehicles or equipment, but to save the lives of the operator and those around the vehicle. This is why it is important to conduct a formal risk assessment agreed upon by all stakeholders, including the client, consultant, and service provider.
“Use this as your basis, and then see if the product in question will speak to the risks identified,” Gibhard elaborates. “This is part of the fresh approach that I-CAT brings to fire suppression in mining vehicles.” An Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) with a dedicated research and development department, I-CAT recognises the need to customise equipment to speak to the specific risks identified.
“Providing unique technology patented around the world, we are currently at the leading edge of technology advances in the vehicle fire-suppression market internationally,” Gibhard stresses. An example of this innovation is the I-CAT Fire Division’s TRT-VPS-FM system, an acronym for T-Rotor Technology – Vehicle Protection System – Foam Mist. T-Rotor Technology is the internationally-patented low-pressure mist system powering the division’s extensive product range.
This includes protection for not only vehicle systems, but also for conveyor belts (drive, take-up, and tail-end), hydraulic power packs, transformers, and generators. These are all stored-water pressure systems, which means that an external water connection is not needed in order for them to be operational.
“A few case studies have demonstrated that you need to improve your products constantly in order to ensure you provide the best possible solution for the specific risk. With our T-Rotor Technology, we provide customers with various options to mitigate all of the identified risks, even protecting the operator inside the cab,” Gibhard adds.
In a recent major fire incident on a mine, the I-CAT VPS system delivered beyond expectation, with an operator’s life saved after being exposed to over 1 000°C for more than ten seconds. “This is just one of the cases where it has been amply demonstrated that the systems provided by,” Gibhard concludes.