Improved vehicle protection will boost tunnel safety

Published:  11 January, 2010

With all the attention focused on tunnel fire prevention and firefighting, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that if fewer vehicles caught fire, the problem would be greatly diminished. Nick Grant, EMEA Vice President and General Manager of Firetrace International, explains. 

Without in any way suggesting that there should be an easing of the efforts to make road tunnels safer, the statics and casualty figures could be drastically improved if, at the same time, vehicles using tunnels – particularly heavy goods and passenger-carrying vehicles – had more effective fire protection.


While not all tunnel fires start with a vehicle fire, a significant number do.  Take, for instance, the Mont Blanc tunnel fire a decade ago that resulted in death of 39 people.  The inferno started with smoke seen coming out of the cab of a truck pulling a trailer containing margarine.  Once the fire had spread to engulf the high-fuel-load of the margarine, the die was cast.  But, what if the fire had been extinguished before it had the opportunity to spread?  Instead of making worldwide headlines, the fire would have generated hardly a ripple of interest.


According to the findings of an NFIRS [National Fire Incident Reporting System] / NFPA research study, mechanical and electrical failures or malfunctions account for 75 percent of fires in on-highway vehicles.  In 60 percent of the cases, the most common location for the outbreak of a fire is in or around the engine compartment, the running gear or wheel areas.  So, on the reasonable basis that the tunnel environment does not make a vehicle inherently more or less susceptible to fire, improving the fire protection of engine and generator compartments can only improve tunnel fire safety.


Of course, protecting an engine compartment is a specialist task with a number of critical factors that, in the past, have seen many solutions fall short of reliable.  The first consideration is the nature of these fires.  In addition to the vehicle’s fuel and the risk of fuel-line ruptures, there are any number of flammable liquids present throughout an engine compartment, such as hydraulic, brake, transmission and power-steering fluids, plus combustible accumulated grease on the engine block, for which frayed or damaged electrical wiring can easily provide the ignition source.  


The second consideration is airflow in and around an engine compartment when a vehicle is in motion. This can seriously impair the performance and reliability of traditional detection and suppression techniques because heat and flame typically rise from the source of a fire and may be propelled away from the sensing device, delaying its activation.   Indeed, leaving an engine compartment fire unchecked while the vehicle is travelling at speed provides the fire with additional oxygen.  This has the potential to accelerate its spread to engulf the driver’s cab and the goods being transported, as happened in the catastrophic Mont Blanc tunnel fire.


To overcome these challenges it is essential for the solution to be automatic, fast acting and self-seeking. It also needs to be immune to vibration and shocks. Firetrace, for example, is a UL listed, FM approved and CE marked tube-based system that comprises an extinguishing agent cylinder that is attached to proprietary Firetrace Detection Tubing via a custom-engineered valve.  This polymer tubing is a linear pneumatic heat and flame detector that was specially developed to deliver the desired temperature-sensitive detection and delivery characteristics.  


This leak-resistant tubing is routed throughout the engine or generator compartment.  Immediately a fire is detected the tubing ruptures and automatically releases the suppression agent, extinguishing the fire precisely where it starts and before it can take hold.  The tubing is placed both above and behind the potential source of fire to ensure that the airflow actually helps in the direction of the heat and flames. 

  • Operation Florian

Sign up: eMagazine & eNewsletter

The latest issues in your inbox.

Company Profiles

Renka´s Fire Engine No. 1

Firefighting, fast, safe, everywhere. Michael Renka GmbH, based in Germany, is a manufacturer of firefighting vehicles, pumps and rescue equipment.

Waterax - We move water

Trusted by wildland firefighters around the world, WATERAX sets the industry standard by developing innovative, portable fire pumps and water-handling equipment designed to withstand demanding applications and rugged environments.

Big Water Flow for Industrial and Municipal Firefighting Applications

Protecting the lives of the public and firefighters while limiting the structural damage caused in large scale fires is our primary mission

We are committed to improving lives and doing business in the right way

We have a unique mix of capability and culture that we refer to as 3M Science and we strive to develop products that improve people’s daily lives in a multitude of ways.

HazSim - Bringing situational HazMat training to life

HazSim, LLC provides innovative simulation training to ensure your team works safely and effectively. HazSim Pro simulation equipment is in use by hundreds of fire departments, training schools, industrial fire teams, and private trainers across the US, Canada and further afield as well as the US Army.

The ultimate in innovation, quality and service

For 60 years Lehavot has been delivering the world’s most advanced fire detection and suppression automatic systems

Advancing rescue technology

The specialist supplier of quality PPE and Rescue Equipment to Emergency Services.

Revolutionizing fire fighting foam technology

The one-stop resource for fire fighting foam concentrates and custom-designed foam suppression systems hardware.

Trust the best, let us be your foam solution

AUXQUIMIA is a Spanish company whose main activity is the design, manufacture and commercialization of firefighting foam concentrates.

Williams Fire & Hazard Control offers a full line of specialized fire response equipment for oil and gas platforms

From storage tanks and pipeline emergencies to offshore platforms and vessels at sea, Williams' response personnel and specialized equipment quickly address adverse fire emergencies.

The leader in truck-mounted hydraulic platforms

Our mission is to provide the best and the safest solution to professionals that work at height.

If you want quality, you want Zico

Since its inception Ziamatic Corp has provided the men and women of the fire service with products designed to make their jobs safer and easier.

The independent alternative

Dafo Fomtec AB is a privately owned company with head office in Stockholm Sweden and manufacturing in Helsingborg in the south of Sweden.