Chances are, one of the lead spots on your local TV newscast tonight will concern a fire. According to the latest figures, some 638,000 building fires occur each year in the U.S. due to carelessness, accidents or arson. We usually don't think much about fire until it occurs. When that happens, we may realize no amount of insurance can possibly repay us for the human injuries suffered or the lost business.
Retread shop fires don't always make the news, because the loss of life usually is small, even if the building loss often is total.
Meanwhile, many retreaders have been paying high insurance premiums so long they think of them as an industry burden. But there are reasons for this. The most obvious is that rubber fires are so hot, give off such thick, acrid smoke and spread so rapidly they are difficult to control.
Other factors responsible for high insurance rates are beyond the retreader's control. Certain hazardous elements are inherent in the retreading process, such as buffing dust, rubber cement, solvents and high heat from steam or electricity.
Perhaps the greatest single problem in the retreading shop is buffing dust or chips. If a shop processes a large volume of tires, the dust collection system can become overloaded or clogged. The floor then becomes thick with this waste material, which often gets hot from rapid buffing.
Then, as the buffing rasp passes over a tire, it may hit a nail or a piece of metal, sending the resulting spark into the dust and starting a fire.
Rubber dust also is subject to spontaneous combustion. Pile rubber dust in a corner or allow it to build up in collector ducts and it can catch fire on its own. That's the kind of fire that starts ``mysteriously'' in the middle of the night.
Rubber cement is another dangerous element. The solvent in rubber cement is easily ignited. When cement was applied by brush, the danger was great enough. Now, however, cement sprayers demand a thinner cement-and that means more solvent. And when the resulting fumes get into the air from the spray gun, any spark or flame can touch them off.
These fumes are heavier than air and sink to the floor when they can not escape into open air. Such fumes have been known to creep hundreds of feet to a source of flame, then flash their way back.
Another source of possible fire is the steam or electric curing system. These become potentially dangerous if the steam boiler suffers deterioration from lack of attention or the electric lines are carrying too great a load or become worn or damaged.
Curiously enough, these two centers of heat and potential fire are not the problems they might be. Possibly this is because the retreader is more conscious of these dangerous elements and keeps a watchful eye on them.
Still, in crowded shops, casings, tread rubber and rubber cement occasionally are stored too close to high heat sources.
At one time, most buildings housing retreading operations were not designed for the accompanying hazards. Often, they were built of combustible material and lacked fire-resistant features like enclosed stairwells or automatic sprinklers. Some may still be in use, but they're no longer commonplace.
Storage is another big problem. Casings often are piled into separate rooms. Many shops do not have proper housekeeping, and catastrophe can strike when a careless smoker lights up in a non-smoking area.
Many local governments are especially concerned with building construction, buffing dust collection systems and ventilation of volatile rubber cements and solvents. Insurance rates reflect these concerns.
Still, retreaders often pay for protection against damages they could easily eliminate. There is a strong possibility that rates could be lowered by making some changes. So what are the basic check points to study?
Plant. Fireproof construction is essential. Floor openings should be enclosed. Exposed windows should be wired glass in metal frames. Fire extinguishers should be placed strategically about the building and exposed for easy access. Sprinkler systems should be used throughout.
Storage. Rows of tires and casings should be spaced far enough apart so fire fighting is possible. Some storage areas are like a maze and difficult to get around in.
Buffing. A separate room for buffing is advisable. Blowers and dust collectors should be of sufficient capacity. Buffing dust should be kept in closed metal containers and disposed of regularly.
Flammable solvents. The safest place to store such materials is outside the building. Exhaust systems should be used to clear the air of gases from volatile liquids.
Beyond these recommendations, there also is the need for general shop cleanliness, posting of fire safety bulletins and employee awareness of what to do if a fire should start.
Statistics make one thing clear: Fire can put you out of business quicker than your competitors can. Still, many retreaders tell themselves: ``I know all that stuff, but it can't happen here.'' Or can it?