A forklift operator driving a propane powered forklift was stacking wooden pallets in the rear of a warehouse loading dock when she smelled smoke. Upon investigation, she discovered that two battery cables on the forklift had come loose and contacted the engine’s manifold starting a fire. The operator immediately shut down the forklift, turned off the battery switch, and told her co-worker to call the fire department.
The forklift operator ran to the loading dock and grabbed a dry chemical fire extinguisher. Meanwhile, a third employee ran to the forklift and attempted to remove the motor fuel cylinder from the rear of the forklift by using the quick disconnect on the fuel line connected to the service valve. The fuel line was disconnected, and propane flowed freely out of the service valve. It was immediately ignited by the engine fire, and the fire flashed back to the cylinder burning the employee.
After observing what had just occurred, the forklift operator ran back to the forklift and discharged the fire extinguisher onto the burning engine compartment. Realizing that the fire was not extinguished, she pulled the injured employee clear of the fire area and waited for the arrival of the fire department.
Upon arrival at the warehouse, the first arriving engine company officer observes a bright orange and yellow fire burning horizontally from the rear of the forklift. The Pressure Relief Valve (PRV) on the propane cylinder is not functioning. Heavy black smoke is seen coming from the engine compartment.
The company officer also observes a stack of wooden pallets about 50 feet east of the burning forklift next to a brick building used as a maintenance shop. A steel frame loading dock is located approximately 50 feet north of the fire. The loading dock is attached to a metal deck on steel warehouse.
The warehouse manager advises the company officer that one of his employees is lying on the west end of the loading dock and has been badly burned and in is need of medical attention. He also advises that the warehouse stores auto parts and is not sprinklered.
Motor fuel service cylinders are used as portable fuel tanks for fork lifts and farm tractors. They are also used to power heavy-duty building maintenance equipment such as floor polishers and aisle sweepers.
Motor fuel cylinders are usually configured to supply liquid propane to the engine rather than vapor. They can have as many as five openings in the service end of the cylinder.
Fittings may be threaded or flanged. Each service valve opening is marked for either vapor or liquid service. The service valves are connected to a dip tube which runs into the liquid or vapor space of the cylinder. Motor fuel service cylinders are equipped with a Pressure Relief Valve (PRV) which is set to function at 375 psi.
Two 1-1/2 inch or 1-3/4 inch hoselines should be placed in service as soon as possible. The first hoseline should be directed onto the motor fuel cylinder’s outer shell to maintain its integrity while the propane is allowed to burn off under controlled conditions.
The second hoseline should be used to extinguish the engine compartment fire, then be redirected to cool hot metal surfaces on the forklift. Hoselines should remain in position until the propane burns off and there is no evidence of steam.
The Incident Commander must weigh the risk of intervention using offensive tactics against non-intervention; e.g., evacuate the area and let the forklift burn. For example, if there are no life safety issues involved and no exposures, why should firefighters assume a risk for a forklift that is basically a total loss when the fire department arrives?
This is a top-perspective view of the incident area. Its purpose is only to get the general idea of the incident and surroundings.
In this section, we present an animated version of the incident.