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Published on Oct 7
Commercial trucking in the United States is one of the largest industries in the country, bringing in nearly $800 billion in revenue and employing an estimated 3.6 million truck drivers in 2019. With so many commercial vehicles on the road, accidents are almost inevitable. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), large trucks were involved in 5,005 fatal crashes, 302 of which had a fire occurrence.
Any accident can be financially devastating for a company and driver, but truck fires are especially catastrophic. What may start as a small fire can easily turn into an uncontrollable inferno in minutes, engulfing both the cab and the trailer. This can lead to a loss of both the vehicle and the goods that were being hauled.
Employers and drivers can prevent or reduce the severity of truck fires by understanding the common causes, taking appropriate steps to prevent them from occurring, and reacting quickly and effectively should they occur.
Causes of Commercial Truck Fires
Truck fires may start from several different sources and can lead to very serious damage to both the vehicle and the driver. Some of the common causes of truck fires are:
- Electrical malfunctions in the cab, sleeper, or engine
- Excess heat resulting from brake malfunctions or improperly inflated tires
- Leaking oil or fuel or flammable cargo
- Defective heaters or ventilation for cargo
- Built-up oil or grease
- Cigarette smoking
Preventing Commercial Truck Fires
One of the best ways to prevent fires is to ensure that the vehicle is in the best possible condition prior to starting a trip. A certified, experienced mechanic should perform a thorough pre- and post-trip inspection. Some of the things that should be checked include:
- Look for blown wheel seals.
- Inspect the fuel system for any leaks or loose connections.
- Ensure tires are properly inflated.
- Inspect electrical systems for common malfunctions or problems.
- Look for grease or oil accumulation on wheels, axles, and in the engine compartment.
- Ensure the cargo area is free of potential hazards and is properly ventilated.
Dealing with Commercial Truck Fires
Despite all appropriate precautions being taken, fires may still occur. In the event that they do, here are some steps that can be taken to limit the damage to the vehicle and cargo. Remember though, only take action if it is safe to do so.
- Get the truck off of the roadway and into an open area, if possible.
- Park away from buildings, trees, vehicles, or anything else that may catch fire.
- Call 911 on your cell phone to report the fire and your location.
- If the fire is in the engine compartment, turn off the engine as soon as possible.
- Disconnect the trailer from the truck if you can do so safely.
- Use a fire extinguisher on the source of the fire. Remember the PASS method: Pull the pin, Aim at the base of the fire, Squeeze the trigger, and Spray the base of the fire.
- Additional oxygen will feed the fire. If it is in the engine, attempt to extinguish from the louvers, radiator, or underside of the truck. If it is in the cab or trailer, keep the doors shut.
- If your extinguisher is empty or ineffective, try using available dirt or sand to smother the fire.
By understanding their common causes and taking precautionary and preventative measures, employers and drivers can avoid or mitigate the likelihood and severity of commercial truck fires. Ensuring that each vehicle is in peak driving condition prior to departure can save you thousands of dollars and potentially save lives.
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