Utility fires in underground vaults, manways, utility passages, and the like can be both stubborn and dangerous. Ask any firefighter and they will tell you that underground utility fires are among the most dreaded of calls. They are difficult to access, difficult to extinguish, and, again, they are extremely dangerous.
A fire in an underground utility can consist of almost anything, but fires in electrical utilities—wiring and transformers—are perhaps most common. These kinds of fires can produce a toxic mix of poisonous gases as the wire coverings, transformer oil, and organic matter all provide fuel for the fire. If organic matter has been decaying in the space or the combustion produces a flammable gas mixture—and being in a confined space underground as it is—an explosion can result.
In addition to the obvious underground damage caused by an explosion, another common consequence is the manhole cover “exploding.” The approximate 100-pound piece of cast iron is literally launched from the ground like a rocket, posing a serious risk of injury or death not only on its way up, but on its way back down as well. This phenomenon was dramatically caught on video in an incident where thankfully no one was hurt.
But even if no explosions are involved, fires in these spaces are the things firefighter nightmares are made of. First of all, they have to go underground with no readily available means to escape should the situation deteriorate. Secondly, they have to locate the fire, which can be particularly problematic in the underground environment. And lastly, they are likely limited to hoselines and/or portable fire extinguishers, both of which may struggle to extinguish a deep-seated fire. So unless there is a rescue need, firefighters will be loathe to enter the space to fight fire—and they are right to take this position.
Therefore, underground utility fires often burn for extended periods of time. This causes untold damage to critical utilities, which in turn leads to service outages and public relations disasters. Then when you consider the cost of the repair and the lost revenue, even a small fire can have outsized consequences.
Adding tragedy to these events is that often utility employees are caught in the rapidly deteriorating environment with a deadly outcome. If only there was a way to effectively fight fires in these spaces early in the incident, then these catastrophic events could be avoided.
There is a way, and that way is Stat-X®. With the quick deployment of a Stat-X First Responder® hand-tossed, emergency Fire Suppression Tool (FST) early in an incident, underground utility fires can be contained or extinguished rapidly. This immensely improves the survivability of employees who are underground at the time of ignition, as well as greatly limits the damage potential.
Stat-X is a condensed aerosol fire suppression agent that is supplied in a container resembling a smoke grenade. It has a pin that is pulled, and like a smoke grenade, is hand thrown into the fire area. Approximately three and half seconds after pulling the pin and releasing the safety lever, the device activates, releasing a cloud of condensed aerosol.
Condensed aerosol suppresses fire by interfering with the chemical chain reaction. The micron-sized particles remain suspended in the space for several minutes after activation which provides protection against reflash. Stat-X is approved for Class A (surface), Class B, and Class C fires, making it ideal for the utility industry.
In addition to its ease of use and fire suppression capabilities, Stat-X is a rugged yet safe fire extinguishing unit. For example, if the Stat-X unit is tossed into water and submerges, the condensed aerosol will still be released through the water into the fire environment. This makes the Stat-X unit particularly useful when tossed in from above at street level.
Another positive benefit of using the Stat-X First Responder is that it is safe to use around personnel. This makes it an excellent tool to buy escape time for workers who may be underground when a fire ignites. Quick action from a Stat-X First Responder FST can confine or suppress a fire long enough to allow personnel the valuable time necessary to escape. And unlike some fire extinguishing agents, Stat-X does not displace oxygen.
A further valuable feature of the Stat-X condensed aerosol extinguishing agent is that it also has no adverse environmental effects. Stat-X does not contribute to global warming, has zero ozone-depletion potential, and has zero atmospheric life. It is EPA-approved for use in occupied and non-occupied spaces.
The Stat-X First Responder is for professional use only. But the training is not difficult, and most personnel find use of the devices to be fairly intuitive. In addition to ease of training, Stat-X units are virtually maintenance free. There is no complicated inspection or testing process, and the product has a ten-year lifespan.
Considering the dangers that are already inherent to working underground in the utility industry, it makes the most safety sense to provide as much protection against an underground utility fire as possible. With Stat-X First Responder, you provide your personnel with the best chance of making it out of an underground utility fire alive.
For more information on how Stat-X® protects the underground utility industry, click here.