How to Prevent Substation Fires

How to Prevent Substation Fires

Substations are essential components of the power grid that allow the safe distribution of power to homes and businesses. However, since they hold so much combustible equipment, they can be grounds for catastrophic electrical fires.

Knowing what to do in an emergency can save lives while minimizing damage to your equipment and the surrounding environment. At the same time, taking the right preventative measures can help you stop similar incidents from happening in the future.

The Dangers of Substation and Transformer Fires

Electrical fires are especially dangerous due to their potential for explosions, which can lead to chain reactions and widespread damage. A chain reaction often follows this pattern:

  1. The transformer overheats, igniting the insulation.
  2. The insulating oil combusts inside the transformer and triggers an explosion.
  3. The explosion releases flammable gases into the surrounding area, causing the fire to spread.

Other transformer fire dangers can include:

  • Hazardous fumes and smoke: Transformer explosions release massive clouds of smoke into the atmosphere, which can contain tiny particles of dangerous chemicals. Exposure to these chemicals can cause serious respiratory damage and impaired vision, potentially interfering with employees’ ability to escape.
  • Loose wires: Fire can burn insulation off dangling electrical wires, increasing the risk of electrocution. Burning insulation can also release harmful fumes into the air.
  • Structural failure: Thermal and blast damage from a transformer fire can cause any nearby buildings to collapse, endangering anyone in the nearby area.
  • Corrosion damage: Smoke can build up on sensitive electrical equipment, rendering it essentially useless. Once your electrical equipment burns, you will usually always need a replacement.

Knowing the typical causes of substation fires can help you when creating a risk mitigation strategy.

What Causes Substation Fires?

A typical substation can contain many different hazards depending on the specific equipment the site uses. Some of the most common substation fire causes include:

  • Insulation failure: Insulation breaks down over time, which can interfere with a transformer’s ability to effectively dissipate the heat it generates, causing the transformer to overheat and potentially catch fire.
  • Aging components: Sensitive internal parts deteriorate as a transformer ages, and failing to replace or repair these components in time can cause a transformer to overheat.
  • Moisture: Water and other substances can enter aging transformers and cause the insulation to break down faster.
  • External issues: Damage from factors like natural disasters, human error and wild animals can all trigger major transformer fires.

A risk management plan can help you minimize fire damage by identifying potential hazards and creating ways to eliminate or reduce their risk. For example, the best way to reduce risks related to aging equipment is to maintain and replace your transformers according to a regular schedule.

How to Extinguish Substation Fires

If you find yourself dealing with an emergency, the first thing you should do is call emergency services. Other important steps you should take include:

How to Extinguish Substation Fires

  • Cut the power supply: If possible, shut off power to the substation as soon as you notice something wrong. This step will minimize the extent to which the fire can spread.
  • Evacuate the area: Following your facility’s fire escape plan, evacuate all personnel from the immediate area. Additionally, make sure all non-personnel are at least 300 feet from the fire to prevent injuries.
  • Use the right extinguisher: If you need to put out a substation fire in your immediate area, use either a Type BC or a Type ABC fire extinguisher to smother the flames. Do not under any circumstances use water to extinguish an electrical fire — water can cause the fire to spread more and increase the risk of shock or electrocution.
  • Monitor the site: Watch for oil runoff, and direct it away from water sources like surface waters or catch basins. Oil spill containment solutions can help you trap runoff before it can escape your site.

An incident response plan can help you minimize risk by assigning everyone a specific role in responding to a fire. Once you have an established plan, it’s important to clearly communicate this information to your staff so they know what to do in the event of an emergency.

The Importance of Preventative Maintenance

As with any mechanical or electric system, taking the proper precautions to prevent transformer fires is just as important as knowing how to respond to one. Implementing preventative maintenance schedules for all the equipment at your substation helps reduce your risk of a fire, potentially saving you thousands in lost equipment costs.

Regular inspection and maintenance of your job site can help you catch issues early on, so you can eliminate potential hazards before they can cause a fire. You should also regularly test any alarms and notification devices you have to ensure they’ll alert the appropriate personnel as soon as an emergency strikes.

Following a preventative maintenance schedule is also essential for compliance with key industry regulations, such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure mandate. This rule requires qualifying electrical services facilities to implement site-specific incident response plans that limit the potential for transformer insulation oil to escape.

Installing a well-designed, properly maintained fire suppression system is a key part of the response plan for most substations.

How a Fire Suppression System Can Reduce Your Risk

Installing a fire suppression system can help you minimize your potential for injury and damage if a fire breaks out. It can also reduce your risk of prolonged outages, which can keep overall financial losses low.

An oil containment solution designed for electrical facilities, like the StoneQuench™ LHD® Grating System, is a key component in any fire suppression system. Now available in the United States, this system has improved fire safety precautions in European substations for decades.

By restricting airflow and blocking UV rays from entering the oil containment pits, our low-hole density (LHD) solution accelerates the rate at which the fire dies. The low-density holes keep flammable dirt and debris out of the pit, which increases the system’s flame retardancy.

The system’s galvanized steel structure provides exceptional durability, and overall maintenance requirements are virtually zero thanks to its streamlined design.

Contain Substation Fires With Solidification Products International, Inc.

Contain Substation Fires With Solidification Products International, Inc.

If your facility needs a solution that will enhance its ability to suppress transformer fires, the experts at SPI can help. Our engineers will work with you to create a solution tailored to your facility’s unique specifications, and we’ll ship it directly to your job site with all included supports, so you can install it in as few as three hours.

Contact us today for more information about the StoneQuench™ LHD® Grating System, or any of our other oil containment solutions.

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