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Rural Health Information Hub

Farm and Agricultural Fire Prevention

Between 2013 and 2017, 326 deadly barn fires were reported in the United States, which resulted in millions of farm animal deaths as well as millions of dollars in property damage. Almost half of the reported fires were caused by heating equipment. These fires affect farm owners, their families, community, livestock, property, and overall livelihood. One effective strategy to reduce farm fires and farm fire related injuries is pre-incident or emergency response planning.

Emergency Response Planning and Farm Mapping

Rural fire departments and farm owners can work together to plan for a fire emergency before it occurs. An emergency response plan can have several components. At minimum, an emergency response plan should include detailed procedures to follow during a fire. Another component of an emergency response plan is a map of the farm that illustrates:

  • Locations of all hazards
  • Access and emergency escape routes
  • Buildings
  • Water sources
  • Locations of utilities
  • Locations of livestock
  • Locations of fire prevention equipment (fire alarm, sprinkler, and carbon monoxide detection systems, and fire extinguishers)

Emergency response planning makes farms safer for farm owners, their families, and rescue personnel. Local fire departments should be included in the emergency response planning process. Once planning is complete, farm owners should share their emergency response plan with their local fire departments. Emergency response planning allows fire departments to identify potential farm hazards, locate water sources, and familiarize themselves with the farm operation. This puts fire rescue personnel in a better position to respond to farm fires safely and promptly, reducing the risk of fire-related injury or death.

Performing a Farm Hazard Analysis

One important component of an emergency response plan is a farm map with locations of all hazards. Like a home safety visit, a farm hazard analysis can help provide information about all fire-related hazards on a farm. The NFPA recommends that farm owners inspect their barns annually for hazards that could lead to a fire. It is also important for farm owners to evaluate and rank farm hazards by priority. This determines which items need to be addressed now and those that can be addressed later.

Several hazards to address when performing a farm hazard analysis include:

  • Making sure heat lamps and space heaters are far enough from anything that can burn
  • All wiring is undamaged
  • Areas are kept smoke-free
  • Outlets and lights are kept clean
  • Feed, hay, straw, and flammable liquids are stored safely
  • Farm exits are clearly identified and free from obstacles

Farm owners can perform a hazard analysis independently or with partners, such as insurers and local fire service personnel. The Vermont Department of Public Safety Division of Fire Safety and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets suggest that farm workers organize their hazard analysis by barn, housing, fire machinery, and shop.

Farm Hazard Mapping Tools

Rural fire departments and their local farm owners can use online tools when developing their emergency response plan. Safer Farm, once known as the Farm/Agriculture/Rural Management – Hazard Analysis Tool (FARM-HAT), is an evaluation system created by the National Farm Medicine Center and the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation. Safer Farm allows users to develop a hazard analysis checklist, and farm owners can evaluate, rank, and insert pictures of farm hazards. The online format of the tool makes it accessible and easier to share with local fire departments.

The Farm Mapping to Assist, Protect and Prepare Emergency Responders (Farm MAPPER) tool is another effective emergency response planning tool. Like Safer Farm, the Farm MAPPER provides real-time information about farm hazards. It also provides information about the physical layout of a farm. With the Farm MAPPER, rural fire departments can identify the following locations when responding to a farm fire:

  • Meeting place (where the farmer and their family can be found)
  • Gas and electricity cutoffs
  • Chemical storage
  • Water supply
  • Machinery

Implementation Considerations

Rural fire departments should encourage farm owners to develop an emergency response plan before a fire incident occurs. To do this, rural fire departments can consider delivering fire safety education on farms through farm safety visits. Much like a home safety visit, a farm safety visit is a good opportunity for rural fire departments to meet with farm owners and discuss the importance of fire prevention, how to identify fire hazards, and the importance of emergency response planning. Rural fire departments can also use this time to provide an overview of hazard mapping tools, such as Safer Farm and the Farm MAPPER tool.

Rural fire departments looking to prevent farm fires should also consider training farm owners on how to use fire protection systems. The NFPA Fire and Life Safety in Animal Housing Facilities Code provides detailed requirements for the use of fire extinguishers and sprinklers in animal housing facilities, including barns and farms. It is important for rural fire departments to establish trust with farm owners before entering their farms. Rural fire departments should consider prioritizing relationship building with farm owners to establish familiarity which will facilitate better communication between farm owners and fire service personnel.

Program Clearinghouse Examples

Resources to Learn More

Farm Fire Prevention Guide
Identifies considerations for farm fire safety planning, lists steps to be taken in the event of a fire, and offers emergency contact information.
Organization(s): Iowa's Center for Agricultural Safety and Health
Date: 12/2015