FAQ

Questions:


QUESTION:  FIRE RETARDANT COATINGS, SPRINKLER SYSTEMS

I lost my horse two months ago in a fire while we were boarding him at a facility in a nearby town.  I still have not gotten over it, because we were supposed to be bringing him to our home and new barn we purchased in November of last year.  He was a PMU rescue—and we do want to adopt again—but we want to make sure we do everything to our barn that we can so the new babies will be safe.  I was reading your article about applying the fire retardant to an existing structure. Do you know where we can purchase this?  Our barn is very new and does not yet have the stalls in it so everything is exposed.  We were just thinking of treating the exterior with a stain, but if there is a product that is also a fire retardant, I would like to use that.  What is your thought about sprinkler systems? We just put a well in and there is plenty of pressure to have the sprinklers installed.

Kim

MY RESPONSE:

There are many manufacturers of fire retardant paints and coatings, and their products have certain standards that have to be met in order for their products to be approved.  You can do a Google Search for fire retardant coatings, but to keep from being overwhelmed, check out these four:

Flame Stop: http://www.flamestop.com

No-Burn: http://www.noburn.com

NY Fire-Shield,

Inc.: http://www.nyfs.com/reprods.html

Universal Fire

Shield:  http://firechemicals.com

I’m not recommending any of these four products over any others, but they have their own products and can direct you to local dealers.  Now, when your barn is still “open,” is the ideal time to apply fire retardants, and I strongly suggest you do that since any steps you take to prevent fires are worth the cost, time, and efforts you expend.

I’m all for sprinkler systems in every occupancy where there are oxygen-breathing beings, but especially for animal housing facilities where the animals are confined and totally reliant on humans to evacuate them.  Most people’s first reaction to sprinkler systems are to say they are too expensive to install, but as you have all too sadly learned, without a suppression system that immediately responds to a fire, there is little chance of saving any lives.  As fast as they are, fire alarms sent to monitoring stations, who then have to notify the fire department (who may then have to summon volunteers from their homes) are too slow when it comes to evacuating animals from a burning barn.  I suggest you contact security system and/or fire alarm contractors in your area since sprinkler systems must be installed by certified installers.  You will probably have to install a 1000-gallon cistern to hold water for the sprinkler system, but that is similar to a septic tank and can be easily installed by an excavator, and you will need a pump to get the water from the tank to the sprinkler pipes.  Since you’re in Rhode Island you will need a dry system, which is where the water is held in a non-freezing container (that’s the reason for the cistern being below ground—so the water doesn’t freeze).  A gas is used to hold the water back so the sprinkler pipes are dry and open, but should a fire start, the closest sprinkler head would open, releasing the gas and allowing water to flow.

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QUESTION:  RUNNING FANS ALL NIGHT

I’m wondering about running fans all night in the summer.  They are attached to the front bars of the stalls.  Would you consider it a fire hazard as they are plugged into outlets above the stalls?  During the day there are people around and neighbors but at night it is quiet.

Karen

MY RESPONSE:

Since you’ve mentioned the fans are fastened to the stall bars, I’m assuming they are the relatively light-weight residential box fans you can buy at most discount stores. I hope, as each of these fans wears out that you replace them with fans designed for agricultural use. Until then, you’re doing the safest thing possible, which is being in the barn when the fans are operating.  The other important thing to do is to use a vacuum or blower to remove dust and bits of dirt from the open motor housings since the dirt and dust can “clog up” the motor and create enough heat to start a fire that melts the plastic. You didn’t mention where you live, but usually, once the sun goes down in most areas in the evening, the temperature in the barn becomes more comfortable.

If you have decent ventilation you probably don’t need the fans at all overnight since the horses are not expending much energy.  Keep in mind that horses were here before barns—Nature provides shade and gentle breezes to offset higher temperatures; high winds portend approaching storms and can even make some horses (like Mustangs and other range-bred horses) somewhat edgy. Try turning off the fans when the last person leaves the barn in the evening.  You should find that the horses are reasonably comfortable.  As for the electric cords, if you do leave them plugged into the outlets overnight even without the fans running, you do risk the hazard of the cords being bitten by an uninvited visitor to your barn (mice, raccoons, rats, and even some birds) that can cause a short circuit that starts a fire.  The better solution for providing comfort and ventilation is the use of one or two large agricultural-use approved floor fans placed at one or both ends of the barn aisle.

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QUESTION: MORE ABOUT FANS

I was wondering if you could give me a list of barn-safe fans to use in our horse stable.  We have a small barn (only 5 stalls) with doors on the north and south end.  We like to keep the air circulating though and it helps with flies to have stall fans.  I will admit that at this time we have residential fans on our stall doors.

Carrie

MY RESPONSE:

You’re looking for a fan that is rated for agricultural or industrial use.  These fans are more expensive than the residential box fans, but well worth the extra cost for the built-in safety factors such as thermal control (turns the unit off if the motor gets too hot) and sealed motor housing (to keep out dirt and dust).  These two items are what you are looking for when you buy a fan for your barn.  As for places to buy the fans, you can look for them at Tractor Supply or Sears Hardware Stores, and possibly at Home Depot or Lowe’s.  Do a Google Search for “agricultural fans” which will bring you a whole slew of manufacturers and dealers.  Also, check some of the farm supply catalogs.

You do have choices, though, in whether or not you even have fans at all.  If you have good cross ventilation, you probably don’t need a fan at every stall.  In fact, blowing air at the horses for any length of time isn’t what Nature intended.  As long as there is decent ventilation and shade, the horses should be fine.  If you want to create a breeze in the barn, then I suggest you consider a large portable fan (36” to 42”) that you can place in the aisle.

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QUESTION: PORTABLE HEATERS

My problem is that I board my horse in what I thought was a really nice facility.  Recently the barn manager has up scaled her cat rescue operation and to keep the cats she rescues from making her house cats ill, she keeps the rescues in the tack room in the barn.  In these tack rooms she keeps space heaters running 24/7.  I questioned her on them and basically have been told not to worry, they are safe, they don’t get hot enough to start a fire, etc.  I noticed tonight that one heater is covered in a thick layer of dust.  Needless to say, I am quite concerned.  I am trying to find a different barn but that doesn’t happen overnight.  I have been asking different professionals for their opinions, am I over-reacting?

Michelle

MY RESPONSE:

You are positively not over-reacting.  Portable heaters in barns are disasters waiting to happen.  Here’s what can happen in the tack room with the cats and the heaters that “don’t get hot enough:” 1) the heater gets knocked over when the cats are playing; 2) if the heater does not have a tip-over switch which immediately turns it off if it’s knocked over, it will continue to heat whatever it comes into direct contact with, that is (and I’ll stick with the cats), any towels, blankets, quilts, or kitty beds, and even, sadly, a cat; 3) if something does catch fire in the tack room, the toxic smoke that’s generated will pretty quickly kill the cats through smoke inhalation.  You may not even be aware a fire has started until it breaches the door, wall, or ceiling.  At that point you have about three minutes to evacuate the barn, and maybe not even that much time.  That’s assuming someone is in the barn at the time the fire starts.  Fifteen horses just died in a fire caused by a tipped-over portable heater in their barn.  They died in a 100% preventable fire.

I have been on a campaign to keep portable heaters and heat lamps out of all barns.  The number of deaths in barn fires caused by heaters always goes up in the winter months, especially where well-meaning people are trying to keep newborn lambs, kids, piglets, puppies, etc. warmer than the ambient temperature in their barn, which is usually well above freezing.

Before you rush to take your horse elsewhere, I would suggest you tell the barn manager to check either online or by print catalog, the Drs. Foster and Smith Company (www.drsfostersmith.com ).  They sell non-electric heating pads in three different sizes.  They’re called Cozy Cushion and they will keep her cats plenty warm without using heaters.  As long as they’re out of the weather, cats do a pretty good job of keeping themselves and each other warm.  See what you can do—even asking for donations of “used” kitty beds—can solve the problem without putting any animal at risk.

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QUESTION:  SAFETY TIPS FOR A NEW BARN

We are about to start planning the building of a small two stall barn.  We are keeping the hay apart from the barn on a palletized floor with a tarp covering.  We also want a spotlight to shine on it rather than having wiring directly in the barn.  I want it to be two stalls that have direct access to the pasture.  Other than that I would appreciate any safety tips you could give me.

Amy

MY RESPONSE:

You’re wise to plan on keeping your hay apart from your barn—that’s a number one safety plus!  I am wondering, though, why you’re not planning to have electricity supplied to your barn.  What if you are in the barn at night or the vet or blacksmith needs to work in the aisle (if you are planning on an interior aisle)?  Having electricity professionally installed in your barn is a good idea even if you are only planning on a two-stall shed row barn.  It’s tough cleaning stalls in the dark. . . .

Your best fire prevention tool is a broom.  Keep your barn clean and your entrances unblocked.  Direct access from the stalls is nice and will be helpful in evacuating horses in case of an emergency as long as they can be prevented from going back into their stalls once they are out.

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QUESTION:  PROPANE FURNACE TO HEAT ATTACHED APARTMENT

I know a lady who is building up half her barn (which was a business) into an apartment; the other half is still a horse barn.  They are separated by a concrete wall, but now that this apartment is being built she wants to put the propane furnace on the horse barn side to heat the apartment.  It’s being done professionally but how much of a fire hazard can that be with all the sweeping and fine particles in the air from being in a barn?

Jim

MY RESPONSE: I hope it’s not too late to open this woman’s eyes to the disaster she is considering.  No appliance utilizing an open flam should ever be used in animal housing facilities.  If there is still time to make a change in heating systems, I urge this woman to strongly consider electric heating if the apartment is not too large.  If she insists on propane heating, the furnace should be enclosed in at least 2-hour rated protected walls and ceiling and should still not be in the stable area.

You are absolutely right about the amount of dust generated in a horse barn, and also, it would take only one cobweb near the flame to spread the fire so fast there’d be nothing to save, very possibly including whoever’s in the apartment, because if the concrete wall does not extend from the floor to above the roof, fire will travel from one side of the structure to the other.

Her other option, if she does insist on propane (or any gas) heating, is to install a sprinkler system in the barn and apartment.  Please check NFPA 150 Standard on Fire and Life Safety in Animal Housing Facilities for the latest standards regarding her structure.  Also check with your local fire inspector regarding local restrictions.

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QUESTION:  ALARM, SPRINKLER DECISIONS IN REBUILDING AFTER A FIRE

We lost 11 horses in a barn fire in February, 2008.  The fire has been determined electrical.  It started in the main wire coming from the meter into the breaker box.  I don’t know if you or anyone else could have told us what to do to prevent this fire.  We did constant maintenance and prevention measures, but never though to look inside the wire.  How could we have known?  Yes, the barn was 50 years old, but the breaker box and the electrical had been updated and we hadn’t had any problems to forewarn us.  Although the beautiful creatures, friends, family members that are so loved can never be replaced, we do plan to rebuild the barn.  We will be installing fire alarms (versus smoke detectors) and possibly even a sprinkler system.  A fire alarm has been installed in our remaining barn which houses 11 horses.  Can you make any other suggestions that will help us with fire safety?

One other item—the fire began around 3:30 A.M. and if it weren’t for our other four-legged friends (our wonderful two boxers, Maxx and Montana), my husband, John, and I would have probably perished in the fire as well.  Our home was attached to the barn and we did not hear anything from the barn, not even the smoke detectors (until we got outside) so our hope is that our friends were taken while they slept.  Total loss: home, 2 barns, 11 horses, farm equipment (tractor, brush hog, mowers, etc.) $700K+.

MY RESPONSE: You have my deepest sympathy for your loss, but I do hope that on my behalf you give Maxx and Montana a special hug for saving your lives and for enabling you to save as much of everything else that could be saved.

As for your electrical concerns, you’ll be starting out fresh, and your electrician will be (or should be) following the current National Electrical Codes, which will give you the best protection from an electrical problem.  If you can afford to install a sprinkler system, that is most definitely the best thing you will ever do for your horses.  The only way to save lives—human or animal—in a fire is with a sprinkler system.  A fire alarm system is fine, but if no one is in the barn to begin the evacuation immediately, by the time your fire department is dispatched and arrives on scene (which may only be a matter of minutes), it may be too late to save your horses.  Horses often succumb to smoke inhalation within a couple of minutes or less.  Installing a sprinkler system in your new barn is something I strongly urge you to consider.

When you have time, go through the articles on this website, and especially those of some of the contributors, to get ideas that you can apply to your new barn.  Most fire prevention practices are cost-free and/or easy to incorporate into your daily schedule.  For example, I recently learned that it’s a good idea to use a GFI outlet for an electric fence charger—someone had a fire that started through a shorted-out control box that never would have happened if the charger had been plugged into a GFI outlet.  Now that’s a cheap bit of “insurance.”  Your electrician can help you with those kinds of safety measures.  Oh, and don’t forget lightning protection, either.

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QUESTION: What are the statistics on how many fire suppression sprinkler heads are broken by accident in a year?

ANSWER: Brian Marinus, commenting on this question in the LinkedIn National Fire Sprinkler Association Group, said, “The number I have seen thrown around is 1 in 16 million.”

Loren Johnson said, “From what I have always been told and taught is that the 1:16 million figure is the ratio of how many sprinkler heads are discharged accidentally due to non-fire conditions. This does not include sprinklers that have been broken. To me, ‘broken’ refers to some other external force being applied to the head itself as to cause operation, i.e. being hit by a tool, ladder, equipment, etc.”

Greg Loomer, SET, added, “Years ago Viking had a brochure that claimed the odds of an accidental sprinkler discharge was the same as drawing a royal flush in poker 5 time in a row.”

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