Harvest is always a busy time of year. Recent rains brought any harvest to a halt, but once things dry out I anticipate harvest will shift into high gear. With delayed planting last spring, the window to get crops harvested may be shorter than normal this fall. However, you can’t let the rush to get crops harvested come before safety.
Besides my job for Nebraska Extension, I have another job... that of a volunteer firefighter and EMT for over 36 years. Each year we discuss problems we are likely to encounter because harvest is a time when we have an increased number of fire calls.
The majority of calls we get at this time of year are for field fires. Combines present problems that are unique to their operation. Operators of these machines should check for:
• The buildup of combustible crop residue around the engine and exhaust system.
• Concealed drive belts and pulleys which can overheat due to friction when there is an accumulation of crop residue around them.
• Worn or frayed electrical wiring which can cause sparks and ignite grain dust, crop residues or fuel vapors.
While many are cussing the recent rains, it gives you a great opportunity to make sure everything is ready for harvest when weather conditions improve. Preventative maintenance is key to preventing many of the fires that occur on farm equipment. Good preventative maintenance not only prolongs equipment life but also reduces fire hazards. If you haven’t done so already, here are a few things you can do to reduce the possibility of a field or equipment fire:
• Keep all bearings and gears well lubricated to prevent heat buildup and keep lubricants at proper levels.
• Repair any leaks in the fuel system and any damaged electrical wiring.
• Repair or replace damaged or worn out exhaust systems. In addition to a good exhaust system, install a spark arrester to catch burning particles. They are easy to install and require little maintenance.
Too often during harvest season, safe fueling practices are ignored in an effort to save time. The few seconds saved are insignificant when compared to the loss of expensive farm equipment or weeks or even months spent in a hospital burn ward. Follow these safety practices:
• Never refuel equipment with the engine running. Always shut the engine off.
• Allow hot engines to cool 15 minutes before refueling.
• Extinguish all smoking materials before refueling.
• If fuel spills on an engine, wipe away any excess and allow the fumes to dissipate before starting the engine.
A couple of other safety suggestions during harvest include:
• When starting to harvest a field, start on the downwind side. That way if a fire does occur, the flames will be pushed towards the harvested portion of the field.
• Always carry a cell phone or alternative for communicating with others in case of an emergency.
• Know the location of the field in relationship to letters or numbers on county roads. This seems obvious, but in the excitement of the moment, it’s easy to not be able to recall this information. More than once we have been paged for a field fire “northeast of town” and had to look for the smoke.
• Always carry two fire extinguishers on the combine, one in the cab and one that you can access from the ground. Also carry a fire extinguisher in your grain hauling equipment.
• If a field or equipment fire does occur, call 911 before trying to extinguish it yourself.
• Have a tractor hooked to a disk near the field you are harvesting, but located where it wouldn’t be affected if a field fire should occur.
• If using a fire extinguisher, stay between the fire and your path to safety.
• When using a fire extinguisher, remember to PASS... P-A-S-S... which stands for Pull, Aim, Squeeze & Sweep. Pull the safety pin on the extinguisher, Aim it at the base of the fire, Squeeze the handle, and Sweep the extinguisher back and forth while releasing the contents.
Following these safety tips may seem like common sense, but with the rush to get harvest done and long hours, sometimes these are forgotten. I want to wish everyone a prosperous and safe harvest season and I look forward to the next time I see you. I just hope I’m not coming to see you on a big red truck! For more information on fire safety at harvest, contact you equipment dealer, your local fire department, or your local Nebraska Extension office.