March 29 2016 07:00 AM

Electrical fire serves as wake-up call.

farm scene

There might not be another word so capable of quickly igniting fear in the hearts of farmers.

I'm sure you can imagine the level of panic we felt after smelling smoke during milking one night last week. Our cows are housed in a tie stall barn during the winter and our baby calves are housed in an auto-feeder pen in the front section of our barn . . . so a fire in the barn would put a lot of animals in danger.

Although it first smelled like the smoke was coming from our hayloft, an electrical transformer in our utility room was quickly identified as the source. The transformer's steel box had confined the flames, but the fire left a mess of smoldering and melted wires inside the box.

The fire also left us without a way to finish milking the cows. The transformer was part of our pulsation system, so we couldn't milk cows again until our milking equipment technician replaced the transformer. Thankfully, our technician lives just down the road, so we were milking cows within a couple hours of calling for service.

The technician said he'd never seen a transformer ignite like this one.

We figured out why when we inspected the system: First, the transformer had been wired incorrectly. Second, one of the pulsator wires had shifted in the stallcock so bare wires were touching metal; the heat created by the shorted wire traveled back to the transformer and started the fire.

We got lucky.

All we lost in the ordeal was a couple hours of time and the couple hundred dollars it cost us to replace the transformer.

Some farmers lose a lot more due to fire. The worst fires involve the loss of life. But losing the buildings, equipment, feed, and bedding necessary to care for our animals is a nightmare, too.

Our situation could have been much worse, but it was still a wake-up call. We'll be replacing all of the wires in our pulsation system, testing the fire extinguishers we keep in the barn and tractors, and completing the crisis plan that's been awaiting action while sitting on my desk for the past several months.

These are the tasks that we will do soon, but we know that fire prevention and preparation need constant attention.

In looking back on this entire experience, this quote comes to mind.

Fire is scary. But, "the best safety lies in fear." – Shakespeare

Do you fear fire enough to create a crisis plan and get first response fire equipment in the form of fire extinguishers updated and stored in proper places?

Sadie Frericks blog footer
The author is a dairy farmer and writer from central Minnesota. She farms with her husband, Glen, and their three children. Sadie grew up on a dairy farm in northern Minnesota and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in agricultural communications and marketing. She also blogs at Dairy Good Life.