Bus Industry News, Bus Safety, Technology

United Safety fights electric fires with Fogmaker

United Safety & Survivability Corporation’s Fogmaker Fire Suppression System is a leading product when it comes to Australian fire suppression in buses and coaches. Global testing is proving that the system is also an ideal option when it comes to protecting electric vehicles against thermal runaway.

When United Safety first expanded into Australia, it knew its ability to provide safety products to the nation’s buses and coaches would be a vital part of its operations down under. In the years that have followed United Safety’s successful venture to Australia, the safety solutions provider has found that one leading model in particular has proven to be popular for the country’s various operators.

“Even when United Safety was previously known as Firestorm Fire Protection, we were heavy involved from the inception of fire suppression in the bus and coach market,” United Safety National Transport Business Development Manager Mick Hall told ABC. “Since then, we’ve grown to being a larger company that has the ability to streamline ourselves as a specialist fire suppression supplier.

“Our Fogmaker system is still the best option for all buses, including a battery electric bus, but we’re no longer a one trick pony.”

United Safety, which originated from the USA in the 1980s, is now a full fire suppression company and safety solutions provider. Yet its trademark product will always be its Fogmaker Fire Suppression System.

The Fogmaker system is a well-known part of the Australian bus and coach sector. Hall estimates that United Safety has installed around 15,000 Fogmaker systems in Australia to date. Its historical legacy continues to this day – Western Australia’s Public Transport Authority (PTA) has used the system for more than 15 years, while it’s the preferred fire suppression agent in New South Wales.

The Fogmaker has allowed United Safety to develop a national footprint where any state or territory can access the company’s services and systems. When it came to providing a system that could continue United Safety’s trend of reliable fire suppression on the rising tide of battery electric buses hitting the market, United Safety didn’t have to look any further than its tried and trusted Fogmaker.

“Fogmaker has always stayed constant – it’s been a similar system since day one,” Hall says. “It’s a Swedish product that is internationally and Australian certified and compliant, and United Safety is the only distributor of the Fogmaker in Australia.”

Fogmaker may sound simple, but it mitigates thermal events in both diesel and electric buses in an intricate way. The system includes a high pressure water mist that atomises water molecules. When these water molecules hit the heat source of fire, it converts it to steam. This quickly takes the oxygen out of the air and smothers the fire before cooling the entire area down to reduce any chance of a fire breaking out.

In United Safety’s research, Fogmaker targets all sides of the fire triangle to prevent a thermal event in a bus or coach from occurring in the first place. When electric buses first began rolling out onto the global market, Hall says United Safety moved quickly to test the best way to provide fire suppression for zero-emissions vehicles. With electric battery fires becoming a hot safety topic, United Safety didn’t have to look far to find an effective solution for the new bus models.

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“We knew from the start that electric vehicles would need fire suppression but that it would be a new world,” Hall says. “There’s been evidence that’s come out suggesting that in instances of thermal runaway (an extreme heat and fire event occurring in electric batteries) and battery fires, cooling the battery is the best way to go.

“After trialling suppression systems, we found that Fogmaker is the perfect option for a battery electric bus.”

Electric battery fire research has proven that zero-emissions bus thermal incidents are completely different to diesel variants. In diesel buses, the main issue with fire suppression focuses on the fuel and heat combination.

When looking at thermal runaways, Hall says studies have shown that a unique vapour is given off prior to the incident occurring. After discovering this, Fogmaker was deployed to begin international testing on lithium ion batteries as a solution to this unique vapour.

Hall says the research is looking into the early detection of electric battery fires by identifying the vapour, known as battery vapour.

“We’re now developing a detection system that will be a precursor, like a smoke detector that we use in diesel buses,” Hall says. “We want to develop this to identify battery vapour and target thermal runaways before they can begin.

“Then it’s all about fire suppression and using Fogmaker to blanket the fire from reaching passengers so that they have time to evacuate.”

Just in Australia, Hall says there is research suggesting that this fire suppression technology is crucial to the increased uptake of electric buses. Hall says evidence from the Office of Transport Safety Investigations (OTSI), the governing agent for any Australian transport fires, shows that United Safety’s approach to suppressing fires before they begin rather than reactively extinguishing them holds the key. 

This then allows for the safe evacuation of passengers and staff, which is United Safety’s primary concern when trying to mitigate thermal events on-board heavy vehicles.

“We’ve had government organisations in Australia ask us to perform fire and discharge tests,” Hall says. “We’ve found that our Fogmaker and water mist systems can do these tests as they can give up to 90 seconds of discharge compared to powder systems that only discharge for seven to eight seconds.”

Hall is adamant that there is more to United Safety’s product range than the famous Fogmaker. United Safety’s catalogue has grown steadily to include suppression systems for various engine bays, foams, powders and aerosol fire suppressants that offer a range of solutions to an application rather than a singular product.

To name a few, United Safety offers automatic fire suppression system Reacton, which has rapid fire detection and immediate delivery of an agent in the event of a fire. Hall says Reacton is highly resilient in harsh environments and is automatically activated with no power required.

United Safety also offers Qtec Foam Spray Systems that are pre-engineered to discharge a pre-determined quantity of an extinguishing agent through a network of strategically arranged fixed nozzles.

Hall says Qtec is proudly Australian made, while Qtec Fire Services is internationally recognised as the premier supplier of high-quality fire suppression equipment.

All of these work on heavy vehicles, light vehicles, machines and in the mining sector. For buses, Hall says Fogmaker is still the ideal product.

United Safety is continuing to chase improvement. Hall says the company is looking at a new firefighting agent that could be a unique solution to certain fire incidents. While development continues, Hall says when it comes to electric events, cooling down the battery by using water is still the preferred method to remain safe.

He wants United Safety to continue working with the Australian bus and coach industry to educate operators on the importance of Fogmaker for the latest battery electric bus models.

“The bus industry in Australia is very good with getting on the front foot when it comes to fire safety,” Hall says. “The Bus Industry Confederation (BIC) always talks about it, New South Wales has mandated it – it’s on everyone’s mind.

“United Safety is leading the way when it comes to this. Everyone is on board and understands the risk, we’re just waiting to see how it pans out in this new age of electric buses and coaches.”

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