While the big ball of blue light generated from a transformer fire may look cool, when located in a substation close to a business or in a residential neighborhood, it becomes a major concern. When a transformer short circuits, the electrical arc vaporizes a large volume of insulating oil.
As the vaporized oil has a larger volume than the original oil, a large pressure rise occurs inside the tank. Once the internal pressure exceeds the transformer’s tank or lid pressure rating, the transformer tank ruptures at a seam or the lid, allowing flammable oil to escape and possibly ignite. The entire process takes just milliseconds to complete.
Based on design, transformers do not withstand a great deal of overpressure, making them potentially dangerous. For this reason, it is imperative, for the safety of nearby businesses or buildings, that the owner of the transformer has proper transformer fire protection in the form of suppression systems and fire separation barriers or enclosures. Not only do transformer fire separations give people inside adjacent buildings adequate time to reach safety, but it also serves to protect vital equipment and infrastructure.
Safety Program and Suppression System
For optimum safety during a fire emergency, it is essential you have a program in place, especially for an unstaffed substation that would take personnel much longer to reach after a mechanical or electrical failure. As part of that system, every employee should have a written copy that shows where to go and what to do should a fire break out.
A company-wide safety program combined with a top-quality transformer fire protection system dramatically reduces risk to human life and company assets. You should regularly hold meetings and have drills to reinforce the actions that people should take in the event of a fire. The goal is to get anyone inside or outside near the building to a safe place while preventing the flames from spreading during the time it takes for first responders to arrive on the scene.
Providing everyone with the knowledge they need will make it easier for them to remain calm if a fire at a transformer substation occurs. As part of the company’s safety plan, include the name of the individual responsible for calling 911 or your local emergency line, as well as a backup should that person not be onsite when a fire erupts.
Also, designate a person or persons to oversee the process of eliminating potential risks. Some examples of the responsibilities include ensuring the proper storing of any flammable material, all exit doors remain unlocked during business hours, hallways and stairways are void of any clutter, and fire alarms are in proper working order. They should also provide upper management with regular reports as to the date and time of the last inspection, repairs made, and changes implemented.
When employees feel confident the company took all the appropriate measures to reduce the risks associated with a fire, they will respond calmer in a real-life event. With the correct system and transformer fire suppression measures in place, everyone will handle this type of fire calmly.