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Wastech takes on MRF fires with Fire Rover

Fire Rover

FOR 30 years, Melbourne-based Wastech has been solving its customers problems by finding bespoke solutions to a customers’ waste and resource management requirements. Whether it be supplying balers, compactors, bins, lifters, washers, or helping design and engineer MRF or waste management facilities, the company’s expertise has been called upon many times to help assist business implement waste equipment to improve their efficiencies.

Garreth Dorey has been with the company for almost three months. Wastech’s general manager of sales and marketing has been brought in to help take the company to the next level as it navigates a range of issues within the industry.

Dorey is excited about his new role and passionate about driving innovation to continue to grow the Wastech brand as a “one-stop shop” company.

“It’s about bringing capability that will enable us to grow and take the business to the next level,” he said. “We’ve got a very aggressive growth strategy, which is about helping our customers develop fit-for-purpose solutions. We also provide what’s missing in the industry, which is the local aspect of what we do – local design, local engineering, local manufacturing, and local back-up service. We can really add value to bespoke options for our customers.”

This includes trying to find solutions to one of the more pressing issues that have made the headlines on more than one occasion over the past couple of years – Material Recovery Facility (MRF) fires.

Fires are one of the biggest concerns for companies that own and/or operate MRFs and other waste and resource recovery facilities. And the concern is well founded for several reasons. First, there is the significant business interruption/financial loss of having a facility closed down for a long period of time and the ensuing issues such as feedstock build-up, and in some cases, no other place to process the waste. Second, some fires are caused by lithium-ion batteries, which cannot be put out by traditional methods such as water or foam. And even when these fires are not caused by batteries, and foam is used, it usually contains PFAS, which is starting to earn a reputation akin to asbestos as far as its negative effects on the environment. Lastly, are issues of insurance. Currently, MRFs are seen as high risk to insurers, thus only a couple of companies offer policies to cover such events. And of those that do, it doesn’t come cheap. 

Fire Rover
It is waste and resource recovery facilities like this one that would ideally have the Fire Rover system installed.

Wastech had been looking for a fire suppression system for some time but found nothing that could offer an all-encompassing solution for MRFs or similar waste processing facilities. Then along came the Fire Rover. Wastech’s distributorship of the US-based product came before Dorey joined the company, but he is a big fan of the system. 

“From a Wastech point of view, one of the reasons we got into this type of product was due to the problem that you see all around the world – fires in these facilities, our partners facilities,” Dorey said. “For us, being such a big player in building and maintaining these types of facilities, we also want to help protect them. 

“With insurance premiums going through the roof, we wanted to be able to protect our customers and help them protect themselves.”

Wastech started a conversation with Fire Rover’s developers after noticing how well the product had been going in the United States over the past 18 months. 

“As soon as we saw the product, we knew that we could make it fit with what we do,” said Dorey. “MRFs and resource recovery facilities are becoming more common now that landfills are starting to  close, and no new ones are opening. The facilities are located all over the country and can often be unmanned. It was important for us to protect these facilities with a product that had advanced detection analytics, as well as human verification, prevention and suppression. Fully trained Fire Rover monitoring team watching screens remotely 24/7 365 days of the year so when a hot spot is located via the system, human verification of the incident means action can be taken right away. They can see the heat detected and verify whether it’s an immediate or long-term risk. And then they suppress the fire before it starts while contacting the site and authorities and letting them know of the potential incident.”

Fire Rover is both a fire detection and suppression system, although Dorey points out that Wastech sees it more as the former. 

The system works by having what can be described as a huge shipping-like container that holds the F500 encapsulating agent, as well as computers and another array of equipment that assists with helping the system perform its duties. A thermal detection camera and fire cannon are mounted on a telescopic mast. If the thermal detection camera detects a hot spot it feeds the information to the aforementioned 24-hour manned investigation station, whose staff will verify the issue before suppressing the fire. The retardant can spray up to 33 metres.

Research from the US shows that the system detected more than 2800 hotspots in 2022. This caused the system to be pressurised and ready to work 344 times, with fire suppression activation being needed 137 times. There are already some systems in place around Australia.

“We’ve got multiple units that are live at the moment,” said Dorey. “We have been engaging with some of the biggest brands in the waste and resource recovery sector and tailoring fit-for-purpose solutions. This is also helping them drive conversations with their insurance providers.

“They’re recognising that fire technology is providing greater protection and possibly assisting to lower premiums, combined with low ongoing maintenance fees compared to the risk associated with sites that are unmanned.”

An install is scoped by members of Wastech in conjunction with Fire Rover, who will propose the best solution for a client needs. Risk assessment is the key driver when it comes to setting up a new fire suppression system. 

Fire Rover
Human verification is key to making sure a hot spot is a potential fire risk.

“Our process is that we will go to a site to understand where the risks are,” said Dorey. “We then propose a solution that would suit that site. For example, a site may require plumbing going to multiple cannons. We can set a system up just outside of the facility. We do that a lot, whereby we’ll put it outside and we’ll pipe it up through the building, and we’ll have a mast at two different locations inside. If it’s a big site, we might go in and place two or three of these around the area.”

Finally, one of the main points of difference that Dorey highlights, is that not only can it identify the risk of fire if it finds a hot spot, but can help suppress and put them out.

“When you look at most current fire protection products, they use sprinkler systems that might slow the fire down while authorities are called,” he said. “Our product doesn’t just slow the fire down it helps put the fire out in the early stages within seconds. Then we notify authorities. Most fire prevention technologies are designed to slow down the progress of the fire not put it out. Research has shown that for every 30 seconds a fire is going, it has the potential to double in intensity. Fires get out of control quickly because they’re not put out at the source. We stop it before it begins.” 

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