The Harrington Group

Recent Industrial Dryer Fire: Top Lesson Learned

Posted on Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Last month, Kentucky firefighters responded to a fire inside a large, industrial dryer at the R.R. Donnelley plant located in Dannville. The dryer is used to dry ink on magazines after they are printed, using extremely hot air. According to Fire Chief Woody Ball, an unidentified mechanical failure caused resin to build up inside of the dryer and catch fire. Ball also stated that while the dryer normally functions at temperatures close to 350 °F, the temperatures increased up to 600 °F just before the fire ignited.

Upon arriving on scene, firefighters found that the fire was contained within the dryer. Plant maintenance staff had used fire extinguishers to control it before the fire department’s arrival, while other staff members evacuated the facility. Chief Ball stated, “Employees had already used fire extinguishers on it. We just kind of stood around and watched it. We didn’t even put any water on it. That would have just made it worse.”

According to the fire department’s reports, firefighters worked together with plant personnel within the incident command system to formulate a plan that allowed the dryer to cool-down while providing overhaul inside the dryer.

The six million dollar industrial dryer is reportedly the first one of its type in the world, at 63 feet long and 1.5 stories tall. At the time of the incident, it was in normal operation and staffed by five Donnelley personnel. The dryer sustained moderate damage from the fire that included melted hoses and wires.

At the time of the fire, there were 320 employees on site and no injuries were reported in the incident. R.R. Donnelley is a Fortune 500 company that provides print-related services and is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. As one of the largest printers in North America, operations have included commercial printing, print fulfillment, and business communication outsourcing for over 140 years.

Many details of this incident have not been reported at this time and are unknown to us. We can, however, make some assumptions using the information given, and draw some useful conclusions. Industrial dryers that process combustible materials are susceptible to the accumulation of combustible residue on interior surfaces of the dryer and exhaust duct work. The residue can eventually ignite due to self-heating, or be ignited by other sources, such as an exposed burner flame, or from other transient sources of heat.

It appears likely that combustible residue accumulated in this dryer and found an ignition source. The key lesson to be learned from this is not a new one.  The lesson is this:

Industrial dryers that process combustible materials should be cleaned on a regular frequency appropriate to the operation to prevent unsafe accumulations of combustible residue. Failing to do this exponentially increases the risk of a serious fire. Thorough cleaning at the proper frequency coupled with effective preventive maintenance of the equipment makes it very unlikely that a serious dryer fire will ever occur.

  By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.

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  1. Being the first of its kind, not knowing how much it cost, how much it cost to repair and how much impact the loss had on Donnelley’s business, in addition to regular cleaning, an analysis on the need for fire protection in the drier should be considered. Would the risk and potential loss warrant this consideration?

    Comment by Dwight Havens — October 18, 2013 @ 3:56 pm

  2. Thanks for your comment Dwight. I see from your LinkedIn profile that you are currently with the Round Lake, NY Fire Department. It is a small world – I grew up in Ballston Lake, NY, which is only about 5 miles or so from Round lake. I was back there about a week ago visiting my folks and attending my 40th Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School reunion. That was fun. Regarding your comment about the R.R. Donnelley dryer fire, I agree that it would be appropriate to evaluate the need and suitability of providing fixed fire suppression. However, we don’t have enough information about the fire, the equipment, or the process to predict the outcome of such an evaluation. The information available to us in the public domain reveals that fuel for this fire was present in the form of a combustible residue accumulation on inside surfaces. A fixed fire suppression system, whether automatic or manual, could have been an effective firefighting tool in this case, if properly designed, installed and maintained. On the other hand, a thorough cleaning process properly executed at the appropriate frequency would have likely prevented this fire, negating the need for a suppression system. A cleaning process relies on the humans involved to do the right thing. For an expensive, one-of-a-kind dryer, perhaps it would be beneficial to have a fixed fire suppression system in place just in case the humans fail to clean, which I believe is your point.

    Comment by Jeff Harrington — October 24, 2013 @ 9:39 am

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