Prevention in progress with Fire Rover: Why early detection is key to handling waste and recycling fires

June 3, 2024

Ryan Fogelman, J.D./MBA, highlights the importance of early detection and innovative solutions for fire prevention in waste and recycling centers

Waste and recycling fires are growing problem, requiring swift and effective mitigation to prevent extensive damage.

Addressing these challenges head-on, Ryan Fogelman, J.D./MBA, has been instrumental in bringing innovative safety solutions to the industry since joining Fire Rover in 2015 – a dedication reflected in his monthly and annual reports on facility fires in the US and Canada, which have become vital resources for industry stakeholders.

Ryan’s expertise is widely recognized, with two of his safety solutions earning the distinguished Edison Innovation Award.

A regular speaker on fire safety, he is an advocate for early detection, proper planning, and risk mitigation.

With advanced degrees from Case Western Reserve University and ongoing certification in lithium-ion batteries, Ryan’s knowledge is extensive.

In this discussion, Ryan shares insights on groundbreaking solutions that are revolutionizing fire suppression in waste and recycling centers and beyond.

How did you become focused on the issues around fire in the waste and recycling sector?

I hold a law degree and an MBA, and I spend a lot of time on data analysis, but primarily, I’m a sales guy.

My friend Brad, who founded Fire Rover, asked for my help with their innovative technology.

I became the first full-time employee at Fire Rover.

At my first trade show, the paper and plastics recycling show, I discussed Fire Rover’s potential with industry professionals.

We had one piloted location, and I spoke with someone running the recycling side of a waste disposal company who had experienced four major fires.

This interaction made me realize the importance of understanding the industry’s fire problem.

I started researching to identify the problem we needed to solve.

I reached out to industry professionals, but no one had data on the number of fires.

Everyone had opinions, but it was a very closed loop.

So, I began tracking fire incidents using Google AdWords and decided to report my findings.

Over time, I gathered and benchmarked data, learning as I went.

Ultimately, I became an expert on waste and recycling facility fires and early detection solutions.

When starting a company, you need to be an expert to be taken seriously in the market.

When did Fire Rover launch as a company?

I started in August of 2015, but the company had been around for a year before that.

The first three years were essentially for piloting.

We brought in some excellent first customers to test whether the product worked in the field.

They bought it but were cautious, saying, “Let’s see how this works.”

A perfect example is a customer who installed our system because he didn’t have access to water.

He bought a sizable system, and we’re still managing it today.

He told everyone in the US and Canadian waste and recycling industry, which is very small and insular, that our product is great, but he wouldn’t use it if he had water.

Then, one day, our system put out a fire for him.

Gradually, we started gaining customers.

They installed our system in all their facilities because, at the end of the day, water is irrelevant.

It’s a benefit, but not the primary reason for installing our system.

We’ve never had a catastrophic loss start in an area we protect.

That doesn’t mean we haven’t had catastrophic losses elsewhere, but when Fire Rover acts as the primary solution, I’ve never seen a large-scale place go down.

Our system is different because we’re literally looking for a needle in a haystack.

Can you explain how the Fire Rover system works?

We use a combination of thermal detection, top-grade military cameras, optical flame detection, and smoke versus steam analytics.

Essentially, when we look at a fire, we combine these technologies with our AI.

Our customers are responsible for prevention, and professional responders handle the full response.

Internal response is a critical issue.

We focus on the initial 10 minutes and aim to set the tripwire as early as possible.

We’ve developed what we call the pre-incipient stage, where we catch a fire before there’s a visible flame, just based on a heat abnormality, which we do frequently.

We verify the detection, set off an alarm, and activate the system.

When we detect a fire, we can see through smoke and darkness.

We then charge our nitrogen-powered unit – a heated, dry system that can be used both indoors and outdoors.

We custom pipe the equipment inside the building and spray the fire.

We can put out a fire in 20 seconds, using only 5% of our tank.

This system isn’t just for waste and recycling; we are changing how industrial facilities and outdoor areas fight fires.

We also handle lithium-ion battery fires.

Our approach is to soak the area around the battery to prevent collateral damage.

AI systems don’t recognise collateral assets, but we do.

We verify and react appropriately.

When a fire starts, we spray it immediately.

Traditional methods use water extensively, but we manage with less than 1,000 gallons, or we implement a continuous flow solution, becoming the primary responder.

Our goal is to stop the chain of events by protecting collateral assets.

We can’t stop thermal runaway, but we ensure the area is sprayed correctly to prevent further damage.

Our system operates around the clock.

Even if the facility is staffed during the day, we catch fires while employees are occupied elsewhere.

Our unit sits in the corner, custom piped, and sprays efficiently.

What is the main thing you want to say to the waste and recycling industry?

People need to know that there is a system available that can catch fires early.

Early detection means less damage, less fire water, and fewer environmental impacts.

Many issues can be alleviated this way.

However, like anything else, we need support.

We need the NFPA and the market to get behind it, as associations typically work slowly to approve new technology.

Our technology is proven.

It’s not new; it works.

The question is how do we get everyone on board now that we have demonstrated its effectiveness? We also need to identify other industries where it makes sense beyond waste recycling.

The key message is that there is a different approach.

Relying on water, water, and more water is harmful to people, the environment, and property.

Sometimes, when something seems too good to be true, it actually is true.

Aside from waste and recycling, what other sectors could benefit from Fire Rover?

We’ve been working on getting certification.

We’ve also gained significant interest from insurance companies.

Sean Mandel, Vice President of Safety and Risk Management with Waste Connections, recently shared that they haven’t had a major loss at any location with the Fire Rover system.

The insurance market is getting tougher, and insurers want to see what we’re doing to mitigate the risk of property losses from fires.

There are substantial savings on insurance costs where Fire Rover is deployed, and they plan to continue rapid deployment.

We deal with a lot of false alarms, but we respond quickly.

Last year, we identified 18,109 actionable fires or hotspots and pressurized our system 301 times, effectively putting out a fire more than every other day.

We use thermal imaging in our solution, and we’ve had zero catastrophic losses in any area we protect.

This is why insurance companies see the benefit of our system.

Additionally, our system is highly environmentally friendly.

We use much less water compared to traditional methods, preventing catastrophic losses and reducing the millions of gallons of firewater created.

What’s next for Fire Rover?

We’re about to deploy our first hot work mobile unit, which is very exciting.

It’s a mobile unit designed for hot work, replacing the need for manual monitoring.

This unit will make hot work safer and more efficient.

We’ve also completed a 350,000 square foot facility for the largest battery recycler in the US, using 106 cameras and 57 nozzles to ensure comprehensive coverage.

We’re always looking to innovate and improve our systems.

One of our key successes was putting out an especially intense fire.

People often think we’re just monitoring, but we’re actually virtual firefighters, actively spraying to control fires.

When the fire department arrives, they often position themselves next to our units because they know it’s safe and we have pinpointed the heat sources.

In some cases, we can fight fires more effectively than traditional methods because we provide continuous flow and accurate targeting.

Our system supports firefighters, acting as a robotic extension to help them manage and extinguish fires more efficiently.

This collaboration allows us to handle fires with greater precision and safety.

I believe we can do amazing things in places like hangars where fires are highly undesirable.

We are also working on replacing water towers with robotic systems.

Imagine a firefighter high up, manually operating with a huge fire below.

Why not replace that with a robot? Our system combines robotics with human decision-making.

We did a video demonstrating our approach: we can fog spray or use a straight stream if needed, targeting the fire without damaging anything unnecessarily.

The way we fight fires is changing. The traditional method relies heavily on water, but I believe early detection and virtual firefighting are the future.

Practical tips for waste and recycling fires

  1. Do not fight a battery fire up close. Distance is your friend. We sell systems that allow you to fight a fire from 45 feet away because battery fires can send projectiles flying. These projectiles can start additional fires.
  2. Stay away from toxic fumes. Battery fires emit toxic fumes, not just regular smoke. Maintaining a distance of at least 45 feet is crucial.
  3. Follow UL standards. New UL standards highlight how quickly modern homes can burn, especially with lithium-ion batteries. Their campaign emphasises that you may have just one minute to evacuate.
  4. Do not dig into a pile. If you see a fire on the fringes of a pile, carefully remove the affected pieces. Digging into a deep-seated fire adds oxygen and spreads the accelerant, worsening the fire. The correct method is to pre-wet the pile, remove a layer, pre-wet again, and repeat until you reach the core of the fire.

This article was originally published in the June 2024 issue of Fire & Safety Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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