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Barn Safety Guide | Handle With Care


Safety awareness"One day fifteen years ago, we got a call that our barn was on fire," starts Dr. Tom Newton, a veterinarian and horse owner. "By the time we got out there, barn staff had knocked back the blaze with three fire extinguishers and a garden hose, but the damage was done. In this instance we were using a heat lamp to warm a sick foal, and the foal knocked it into a bed of hay. Thanks to fast action our barn was saved. Unfortunately, we lost that foal and a mare in the stall beside it. It was a hard loss, but we gained an appreciation for barn fire safety that we want to share with others."

Sad stories like this aren't the sort we make a habit of telling, but consider that hay has a flammability rating nearing that of gasoline. It only takes 3 minutes for a hay fire to consume a standard horse stall, and only 30 seconds of exposure to fire can take a horse's life. If the impact of these facts and stories can help jar readers into thinking twice about the threat of fire to their barns, then it's all for the good.

Recently, Dr. Newton and his wife, Jennifer, spoke on a panel of experts before Goochland, Virginia area fire fighters and horse owners. In Jennifer's words, "the goal is to have a collaborative conversation and working relationship between barn owners and their district firefighters."

Conversation should focus on four major categories: preventive measures, thorough preparedness, in the event of an incident and the aftermath. To help guard your barn from fire and to inform you in case of an accident, here are tips offered by the Goochland County experts:

Prevention

  • Off-Site Storage - When at all possible keep gasoline and flammable chemicals in a building separate from your barn.
  • Quality Electronics - Make sure the electronics you use are UL approved and only use as intended. For example, standard box fans are barn standards, but one mounted at an angle or horizontally can build up heat due to friction and spark fires. Also, always unplug any appliances not in use.
  • Dry Hay - Never store uncured or otherwise wet hay. Chemical reactions within the hay can build heat to the point of spontaneous combustion. Make certain your loft is protected from rain and well ventilated between walls and stacks.
  • Cobwebs - We're not just being neat freaks, cobwebs are fire hazards. Webs are very flammable and they trap fine dust that can be dangerous when webs are near a heat source.
  • Safe Wiring - Take the same care when wiring a barn that you would when wiring your home. Don't overload circuits and make sure no wires are exposed. Also, keep wires away from animals that might chew through them.
  • No Smoking - This should be obvious, but lit cigarettes and tossed butts are an open invitation for fire.
  • Nightly Check - Even though your last feeding may be mid-afternoon, it's wise to do a nightly walk-through to make sure nothing was left plugged in or precariously perched.

Preparedness

  • Fire Extinguishers - A good rule is to have a fire extinguisher by every entrance and a couple in central locations. Dry ABC extinguishers are good, but the self-pump water can variety, with a little dish soap mixed in for better coverage, works well too.
  • On-Site Phone - Even if it's a cell phone, this is necessary in emergencies.
  • Relationship with Fire Department - Have someone from the department come out to look for hazards. Show them alternative water sources like ponds and pools. Have them record your location and access roads on their master map.
  • Clear Access - Barns should be accessible by two driveways. These should be 12-feet wide with 13-foot clearance to permit fire trucks access - wider around tight turns.
  • Horse Leads - Have leads easily accessible by major entrances and by stalls so fire personnel can find them quickly.
  • Have A Fire Plan - Take the time to make a fire evacuation plan. Perform live rehearsals with family and farm helpers.

The Incident

  • Call 9-1-1 - Make the call FIRST. Have someone stay on the phone until all questions are answered and location identified.
  • Prioritize - Make sure you and loved ones are safe. Once safe, going into a burning structure is strongly discouraged.
  • First Few Minutes - Fight small fires by spraying at base. Lead livestock out in orderly fashion. Once clear fight fire from outside structure.
  • Stay Low - Smoke can asphyxiate before fire burns. Stay below smoke. Cover faces with damp clothes.
  • Prepare For Fire Dept. - Clear the area of large obstacles that could block trucks and post a person at farm entrance to guide them in.
  • Mind Your Horses - Corral your horses in an area away from the commotion to keep their stress low.

After the Incident

  • First Aid For Humans - Cover burns in loose, damp dressing. If asphyxiated, administer rescue breathing.
  • First Aid For Horses - Encourage them to stay calm with feed or hay. Cover burns in loose damp dressing. Administer pain medications as needed.
  • Stay Alert - Remain clear of barn until fire personnel deem safe. Chemical explosions and flair-ups can occur well after fires seem out.

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