As the only supplier of Fogmaker Fire Suppression systems in Australia, United Safety is the market leader in bus fire suppression and safety systems. It took its standing to the next level courtesy of an intensive search to redefine electric bus safety systems down under
As a leading supplier of safety technology systems into the bus and coach industry, United Safety’s Australian business has been successful in providing fire suppression products for internal combustion engine (ICE) and other diesel vehicles for almost 20 years.
As it headed into 2023, United Safety undertook a risk management approach and broadened its strategy to the growing number of zero-emissions buses hitting Australian roads.
“As the distributor of Fogmaker International products in Australia, we knew that Fogmaker had been looking at zero-emissions bus safety for many years in Europe,” United Safety Australia General Manager Danny Dries told ABC.
“Prior to 2022, Fogmaker and United Safety had catered for diesel combustion engines protecting high heat sources.
“Going into 2023, we began shifting our core strategy from diesel powered vehicles to concentrating on protecting zero-emissions buses, operators and passengers.”
Despite its extensive experience in bus and coach safety systems, this was a new area of knowledge and risk management for United Safety to get its collective head around. Instead of waiting for the industry to complete the shift to zero-emissions vehicles, United Safety got on the front foot, proactively beginning to conduct external research globally to learn which of its products was best suited to fighting electrical thermal events.
Throughout this sustainable transition, United Safety ensured it kept its safety focus intact. Like always, it ensured assets and people were put at the forefront of its product development.
With ties to European bus operations, Fogmaker International already had global experience in catering for zero-emissions buses. United Safety tapped into this, working with the company to decipher what designs were best to introduce into the Australian market to keep the new wave of battery electric buses safe from thermal events such as thermal runaway.
This soul-searching gave rise to a new idea. Previously, United Safety’s fire suppression technology had centred on AFFF and high-pressure water mist technology to limit fire risks. With lithium ion batteries requiring a completely new approach to suppressing thermal events, United Safety landed on a new design for Australian electric buses.
“Throughout this testing phase we had a lot of third-party fire professionals look at what would be the best course of action for fighting these different types of fires,” United Safety National Executive Sales Manager Matthew Jarrett told ABC.
“The conclusion of these tests was that Fogmaker, alongside a different active cooling agent, was the best way to ensure we removed passengers from electric buses safely before thermal events could wreak havoc.”
The agent found to be the perfect antidote for battery electric bus battery fires was ECO-1.
Dries says ECO-1 was first used by Fogmaker International across multiple applications. It was introduced with the idea of transitioning from ICE powered vehicles to electric vehicle safety while also limiting the environmental impact that previous safety system agents had before it.
With this answer now known, United Safety pushed forward with a wide range of tests and certifications that prepared it to begin implementing the ECO-1 agent onto its range of Fogmaker products onboard Australian buses and coaches.
Tests that United Safety underwent included getting ECO-1 Greenscreen certified as a leading fire suppression agent along with compliance against P-MARK, FM and UL approvals and meeting Australian Standard (AS) 5062 for fire prevention measures. Following this comprehensive list of approvals, United Safety was ready to begin 2023 by using ECO-1 on its leading safety products.
The next step was to plan how it would implement this new agent into its growing list of fire suppression systems onboard zero-emissions buses.
“All of those tests that we took were ones that provided scientific data for knockdown time, reflash control and, most importantly, extended discharge,” Dries says.
“Extended discharge was critical for us to begin retrofitting ECO-1 agent systems onto existing products that were working on Australian vehicles.
“This is where our risk management approach to installing fire suppression systems on electric buses came to the fore.”
When it came to fitting this new agent onboard electric safety systems in Australia, United Safety kept risk assessment critical to its procedures. How it works is simple; the United Safety team identifies the fire risks onboard each individual battery electric bus before walking through the process of how to protect the asset and the people onboard and then putting its recommendations forward on what it can provide operators to increase safety.
United Safety’s products are designed in line with this approach. Dries says United Safety’s product range meets all standards and certifications for this risk management approach, using this framework to then drive the installation process for zero-emissions buses and their unique risks.
Unlike diesel buses, where safety products could only protect the engine, United Safety’s new Fogmaker design can spread thermal safety to other precious parts of an electric bus, limiting the risk of a catastrophic electric fire.
It’s part of a new approach that is helping United Safety keep electric buses safe despite the various thermal challenges they present.
“Our intent is to stop thermal events from getting to large battery sources,” Dries says.
“Our technology is all about protecting large thermal sources on our buses, which in electric buses is the lithium ion batteries.
“Our major change has been to now prevent the spreading of thermal events to DC inverters, all connection points, compressors, generators and motor controllers.”
This different way of protecting zero-emissions buses is also made easier by the quality of the Fogmaker system. Fogmaker is designed to be reverse engineered, allowing United Safety to complete any new installs and upgrades over the next decade to reinvigorate existing products without having to re-fit new systems. This flexibility allows United Safety to span electric vehicle in many industries, whether it be mining, tunnelling, forestry or waste vehicles.
“United Safety Australia is the leader in the global Fogmaker dealer network in ECO-1 zero-emissions bus installations and risk management,” Dries says.
“Our systems are failsafe – we provide standalone, automatic and failsafe systems that work anytime. It’s a major benefit that the only thing that makes our product work is a thermal incident in the bus.”
This new approach and agent has already been tested when United Safety took on the challenge of retrofitting Fogmaker into an electric double-decker bus recently.
Unlike a standard single-deck bus, the double-decker model requires even more safety precautions to provide the time for passengers on the upper deck to safely vacate the vehicle in the case of a thermal event. With the double-decker having up to 90 people onboard, United Safety aimed to extend its discharge to 90 seconds to allow additional time for evacuation of the vehicle.
Throughout the retrofitting and risk management process, it did exactly that, showcasing United Safety’s capabilities as a fire suppressing extraordinaire.
“It’s the only product in the market that can offer that,” United Safety National Transport Business Development Manager Mick Hall told ABC.
“Testing is always ongoing to allow for a smooth transition of new Fogmaker agents. ECO-1 is environmentally friendly and fluorine free.
This retrofitting of the double-decker bus happened at just the right time. Following this major boost for United Safety’s new zero-emissions bus design, Fogmaker International visited the company in Australia last month.
The visit of Fogmaker International reinforced United Safety’s international support and facilities at its disposal to continue its constant evolution in the thermal safety game.
The changes will continue to revolve around the use of ECO-1. Multiple states have passed legislation that banned the use of any fire suppressing agents or foams containing Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) or Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
United Safety’s switch to ECO-1 late last year avoided these regulations, allowing it to grow in the electric bus market. Following this successful change, it’ll now look at introducing a broader range of products in 2023 that continue the theme of zero-emissions bus safety.
If this growth keeps on the path already forged by the innovative switch to ECO-1 in Fogmaker electric bus systems, United Safety will become a one-stop shop for all things zero-emissions bus and coach safety in Australia.
“In 2023 we’ll also be introducing our range of seating products alongside new Active Air solutions,” Dries says.
“We’ll also be bringing our contactless DC tester to the market. It’s the very first of its kind and can test DC for anyone operating or maintaining battery systems.
“We’ve been in the industry for 20 years and are here in Australia for the long haul. Our goal is to continue looking for solutions to keep people and property safe.”