- There were 289 reported facility fires in the United States and Canada in 2017, according to a report from Fire Rover VP of business development Ryan Fogelman. He points out, though, that the number of unreported fires in facilities across the U.S. and Canada is likely "significant."
- At least three fatalities and eight direct injuries resulted from facility fires. By comparison, Fire Rover reported "at least" 282 fires in 2016. 40% of the fires occurred at solid waste facilities, with the second most (31%) coming from metals facilities.
- Fogelman's two biggest recommendations, according to the report and an interview with Waste Dive, are investing in proper technology and advancing consumer education. The technology should be able to prevent, mitigate or respond to active fires and "incidents." Education helps make incoming loads cleaner and easier to sort, so as to be less likely to create "a bulge in the backend" that can be a fire risk.
Facility fires disrupt operations, can injure workers, and carry heavy price tags. Having data about where and when fires occur equips operators to make decisions that help mitigate or avoid fires. As pointed out in the report, other countries, including England and Australia, have government offices tracking facility fires to collect data. Domestically, a lack of available data is part of what led Fogelman to start collecting and searching for facility fire information. However, while there is more data available now than just a few years ago, some fire risks appear to be increasing.
Fogelman cited global warming, the increase in lithium-ion batteries and China's import restrictions as factors that could increase the risk of fires. Climate change — which over time increases average temperature in several parts of the U.S. — poses risk because the U.S. and Canada both see a surge in reported fires during warm summer months. Warmer conditions can create higher risks for fires, as materials are pressed together in transfer stations, landfills or MRFs.
As more devices come online and older devices containing lithium batteries enter the waste stream, disposal of the older devices increase risk. Lithium batteries can fail, causing small explosions and fires. With projections showing more e-waste likely to be generated in coming years, adjusting operations to account for the likelihood of batteries in waste streams is likely to be crucial.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the report lists Chinese import policies as a risk factor for facility fires. According to Fogelman, the risk comes from the fact that stockpiling material slows operations down and leads to material being stored in single locations for longer amounts of time.
"The more that they're storing it, the more chance we have of having clutter inside these facilities," Fogelman said in an interview with Waste Dive.
And that stockpiling is already being seen from Massachusetts to Oregon. As those affects continue to be felt across the U.S. and other countries, like Canada, facility safety will continue to be paramount — especially as summer, which has shown a spike in facility incidents because of higher temperatures — approaches.