American Family Insurance | Image of a modern farmhouse and barn.

Fire Safety on the Farm and Ranch

Get educated about agriculture fires and how to prevent them with this informative guide.

Managing a farm or ranch is more than a business. It’s personal. And for many, it’s also the place where you live and raise your family. With all the hard work you’ve invested, a comprehensive fire safety plan has never been more important. Help prepare your family and employees for a variety of situations by following these fire safety recommendations.

Fire Safety Plans for the Whole Farm

Preparing for a devastating fire is no one’s idea of a fun afternoon. But, much like CPR training, it can change everything when an emergency strikes. Knowing how to react to a fire based on location, fire size, and available fuel sources in the vicinity — these are all factors that should be taken into account when designing a strategy. Review the fire safety plan best practices below to help insure that your farm is prepared.

Comprehensive planning is key. According to fire safety experts, if you’re inside a building that’s on fire, you have about 90 seconds to get out before the fire and smoke become a threat. Having an evacuation plan and rehearsing it frequently can make all the difference. Remind all workers that proper upkeep of the farm is one of the primary keys to preventing fires. Preform fire drills and create a fire escape plan for each building.

Take a tour. Walk around your property and look for potential dangers. Eliminate or safely store materials that pose a combustion risk. In areas that house flammable materials, clearly identify a no-fire perimeter to prevent vapors or flammables from igniting. It’s also smart to position highly visible fire extinguishers near each of these locations.

Emergency power disconnection. Agricultural fires typically happen in or around buildings first. So when you build your safety plan, be certain to clearly identify the process of disconnecting electrical breakers and be sure you know the location for incoming power to each outbuilding.

Livestock evacuation. Another important aspect of fire preparedness is to create a comprehensive evacuation plan for livestock that is sheltered indoors. Assign a parcel of land for that purpose, one which contains minimal burnable grass or brush. Ideally, it should have ample shelter from the sun and a readily available source of water. With measures like these in place, you and your employees will be able to react quickly and efficiently if necessary.

Go public. A great way to prepare for the unexpected is to create an emergency social media page that can act as a means of communicating to employees and family. Invite people to this new group as you’re creating your plan so they’ll know it exists well before it’s needed. Remind them of it during your fire drills and make sure they can access it.

Invite the fire chief. Get on your local fire department’s calendar to review your plan. Provide a map of your property showing the location of all buildings, and make a list of all flammable items on a per-building basis. It’s important to consider how responders will combat a fire across your acreage. Fire crews will need deep access into each building, so remind employees to keep main halls and pathways clear. Work with the fire officials to identify sources of water for fighting a fire. And have employees remove obstacles that may prevent first responders from driving emergency vehicles across your property. Your local authorities will know how to best manage issues on your property because everyone has agreed on your plan in advance.

Safeguarding Tractors and Other Equipment

Performing regular maintenance on all fleet vehicles will help to keep them running well. But it’s also an opportunity to check for fire hazards. Fires are frequently ignited in engine areas, so keep them free of debris and burnable materials. Inspect them regularly and remove combustibles at regular intervals. Keep an eye out for frayed wiring as insects and rodents have been known to degrade electrical lines. Take a close look at exhaust lines on all vehicles and machinery to ensure that catalytic converters, mufflers and other systems are operating well.

If possible, store machinery or vehicles that pose a higher fire risk separately from the rest of your fleet. And remember to place an annually-certified fire extinguisher on each self-propelled implement. It’s also a great idea to regularly check for exposed wires in machinery and engines. Be sure to look for moisture in high humidity environments as corrosion can play a factor in these circumstances. Inspect batteries carefully and follow manufacturers’ recommendations on removing corrosion.

Electrical Considerations

Sometimes, it only takes a spark to start a fire. Use humidity resistant covers on lamps, protect against sparking and install cages around incandescent lights to prevent flammable items contacting hot surfaces. Whenever possible, replace old or outdated electrical panels with new, weather-proof, corrosion-resistant panels, and relocate them away from flammable sources if necessary. Keep overhead electrical lines far above the minimum height to insure clearance by tall equipment and vehicles. And install ground fault interrupting (GFI) outlets in areas near water sources to reduce exposure to electrocution and fire risk for you, your family, your employees, and livestock too.

Buying electrical equipment that is UL listed and grounded properly is another important safety measure. Regularly test all power tools and machinery operated by an electrical motor to ensure they’re performing their task as designed. If a conveyor belt motor is overheating or consistently tripping a breaker, consider replacing it or upgrading to one with greater capacity. And don’t forget to inspect that breaker, as it may need replacing as well.

Always hire certified electricians who adhere to the most rigid requirements. They’ll know how best to keep your operation safe and may be able to advise you on hidden risks. Have them inspect and maintain lightning rods and grounding cables, too.

Employee Smoking Areas

If employees want to smoke during breaks, identify designated smoking areas with signage. Locate this area far from combustible materials. Provide commercial grade smoking receptacles for the disposal of cigarettes and remember to install an annually-certified fire extinguisher nearby.

Upgrade to Smart Alarms

One of the best ways to prevent a small fire from growing to an uncontrolled blaze is to install smoke alarms inside every building. Now, “smart smoke alarms” that hook into your Wi-Fi or broadband network can deliver real-time data, informing you of situations in remote buildings as they’re occurring, right through your smartphone. Another option is to purchase a smart 9-volt battery that will alert you when the battery discharges or when the alarm is active. They can be used in most existing smoke, fire and carbon monoxide alarms that require 9-volt batteries. Plus, they’re more affordable than smart detectors.

Fire Prevention for Outbuildings and Residences

There’s so much to consider when deciding where to place a new building on your property. To prevent fires from jumping from one building to another, allow at least 30-50 feet between structures. And always keep brush to a minimum by mowing a 10-foot perimeter around every building.

Consider the way airborne embers might find their way inside, and seal those areas to prevent infiltration. Enclose soffits and eaves. Regularly remove pine needles and other combustibles from roofs and gutters. Kindling like this can quickly ignite if cinders settle there. Select flame retardant materials like fiber cement siding and steel roofing for additional protection.

To minimize indoor fires, be sure that welding curtains are available and used by workers. Don’t allow employees to weld or use cutting torches in the vicinity of combustibles. Fires can be temporarily confined by installing fire rated doors, and they’re often required in key locations, so make sure your doors are up to code. Also consider upgrading existing structures and homes with fire suppressing sprinkler systems. Leverage rainwater by collecting it in cisterns and regularly water grass around outbuildings.

Practice good housekeeping by inspecting and maintaining furnaces and heating systems in each building on a regular basis. Set reminders to swap out filters, and don’t forget to examine outdated equipment frequently, as these items may soon require replacement.

Protect Your Investment

Taking time to safeguard your property from fires is a big job and an ongoing effort. But after that work is done, you’ll feel better knowing local fire department officials, your employees and your family are all working together to protect your property. After creating an inventory of all that you have worth protecting, remember to also take time to review your Farm and Ranch policy and build coverage that’s right for you.

Tools & Resources

Explore our tools and smart tips.