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SUPPRESSIVE STATEMENTS Understanding Vehicle Fire Systems And Agents For Racing By Dan Sanchez Racing in Baja is one of the most thrilling and life-changing experiences for any off-road racer. Despite the inherent risks of any motorsport event, vehicle fires are what most drivers and teams dread the most. Although rules and safety equipment are in place to minimize the risks of a vehicle fire, they do happen in rare instances. Teams often have some kind of fire protection and suppression system in place, but knowing what’s best and when to use them is another matter. Manufacturers of fire suppression systems have seen all kinds of reasons why vehicles catch fire and have worked with their own engineers and racing teams to provide the best systems out there. In their view, knowledge of the types of systems, placement, and maintenance are all key to putting out a vehicle fire as fast as possible. Suppression Agents Perhaps some of the most confusing aspects of fire suppression systems are the various agents available. Dry chemical, wet chemical, Halon, Carbon dioxide, Novec, knowing what works best in an off-road racing environment is key to the effectiveness. “Off-road racing creates a unique situation and teams need to be aware of the type of agent used,” says Tyler McQuarrie, Director of Business Development at Lifeline USA. “There are a lot of chemical foam and powder systems out there, and they work well for various types of fires, but they are two-dimensional, and don’t always offer total coverage. Gas agents are three-dimensional and chase the fire. Therefore, you don’t have to fully cover the fire to extinguish it. The latest of these is 3M™ Novec™ 1230 which is non corrosive. When used, it leaves no residue and doesn’t damage electronics.” For off-road racing purposes, most fire suppression manufacturers use and recommend the Novec™ 1230. “The reason is that this agent is the most ‘friendly’ to use as it evaporates/dissipates completely after suffocating the fire and is safe if accidentally inhaled by the vehicle occupants,” says Johanna von Disterlo, Sales Manager at Safecraft Inc. “Other popular agents like foam and dry chemical agents will always be around due to their lost cost, but for the long-haul Novec™ is preferred for motorsports use.” Isolating Vehicle Fires In a vehicle fire, knowing where the fire is located is another crucial aspect for suppressing it. In many cases, the fire isn’t visible to the occupants, and by the time they realize there’s a problem or see smoke, it’s only seconds away from fully engulfing the vehicle. “This is why isolating the fire to where it started and keeping it from spreading, is key to an efficient vehicle fire suppression system,” says McQuarrie. “Focusing the suppression agent on the location of the fire can isolate it and put it out faster.” As seen on the latest AWD SCORE Trophy Trucks, fires can now erupt near extremely hot transfer cases and transmissions, as well as the engine and around fuel systems. “Having a built-in vehicle system allows four or five nozzles pointed in key areas which direct the fire suppressant agent to where the fire is located,” says McQuarrie. “When activated, isolating the fire this way allows more time for the occupants to get out. You often don’t know what type of fire it is, or the source. An in-vehicle system using an agent like the Novec™ 1230, can not only save the occupants, but also allow the vehicle to be repaired, and even get back in the race.” Automatic or Mechanical In-vehicle systems can be both mechanical, activated by the occupant, or automatic where it is activated by small bulbs that when melted by heat, disperse the agent in that area. “Both mechanical and automatic systems work well in a race vehicle and are a huge improvement over a simple hand-held unit mounted to the roll bar,” says von Disterlo. “Unfortunately, those drivers and teams who have experienced a fire, often opt for the most advanced automatic systems available.” Mechanical systems use a pull handle, usually located where the occupants can easily reach and pull to activate the system. This works extremely well, allowing the agent to cover all of the areas the nozzles are pointed to. In an automatic system, there’s no second guessing if a fire is present, or having to do anything other than pull over and get out. “The auto systems are more expensive, but they also direct all of the agent to the location of the fire, rather than spread it out across every nozzle in the vehicle as with a manual system,” says von Disterlo. The main difference between a mechanical and automatic in-vehicle fire suppression system is time, according to McQuarrie. “Auto systems have different temperature bulbs for the engine bay, fuel cells, drivetrain, etc. Many times they will go off before the driver or navigator even knows a fire is present. So there’s no need to recognize if there’s an issue, pulling over, and finding the lever to pull. By that time 20-30 seconds have gone by and the fire is doing more damage.” In the case of SCORE Trophy Truck racer Tavo Vildosola, he said he tried to pull the lever of his in-vehicle fire suppression system and it wouldn’t work. Even after the truck was engulfed in flames he reached in the cab, with his racing suit and helmet still on, and tried to pull the mechanical lever with no result. Afterward, he and the team learned that the drivetrain fire had been so hot that it melted the cable attached to the pull-lever, preventing the system from working properly. “An automatic system is not cheap, but compared to losing a million-dollar race vehicle, it’s a much better insurance policy,” says McQuarrie. Maintenance And Education No matter what type of system is used, proper maintenance of how to use it and educating team members and co-drivers is essential. “All teams should have a pre-race checklist for any type of fire suppression system,” says von Disterlo. “If it is a mechanical in-vehicle unit, all the vehicle occupants, pit crew, and other team members will need to know where the levers are located. If there is a safety pull-pin on the activation levers on mechanical in-vehicle systems, they should only be used during transport. The pins must be removed before the race. “ Von Disterlo and McQuarrie also recommend everyone on the team have a plan of action in case of a fire in a pit area. “Everyone should know where any hand-held extinguishers are in the pit and on the vehicle,” says von Disterlo. “Along with an in-vehicle system, there should also be at least two hand-held units mounted on the vehicle for crews and occupants to quickly access if necessary.” All fire suppression manufacturers will recommend teams practice what to do in case of a fire and regularly check all of the units are in working order and up to regulations. “Typically every two years the systems should be sent back to the manufacturer to be checked,” said von Disterlo. “We usually install new O-rings, and new gauges and make sure everything is reading correctly.”s This also goes for any mechanical system latches and firing pins. These should be cleaned after each race and checked to make sure they can be easily removed when needed. “The fire suppression industry has grown and changed, especially to meet the demands of motorsports racing,” says von Disterlo. “Along with the latest innovations in fire suppressant agents and delivery systems, the biggest thing we always want to see is proper education in how to use the products. A few seconds of hesitation or not knowing how to operate can make the difference between full devastation and getting back into the race.” SOURCES Lifeline USA Safecraft Safety Equipment

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