Dock-seal fire problem identified

In the past 18 months, Frommelt Products Corp., a manufacturer of dock seals, has recorded nearly 90 incidents of dock-seal fire damage. Why the sudden rise in a problem that seemed nonexistent just a few years ago? The answer reads almost like a TV detective story. Several factors have converged since 1999 to cause the rise in incidents and property damage.
By Staff April 28, 2003

In the past 18 months, Frommelt Products Corp., a manufacturer of dock seals, has recorded nearly 90 incidents of dock-seal fire damage. Why the sudden rise in a problem that seemed nonexistent just a few years ago? The answer reads almost like a TV detective story.

Several factors have converged since 1999 to cause the rise in incidents and property damage. First, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 1999 issued an “interpretive rule” regarding the positioning of identification lamps and clearance lamps on the rear, upper header of trailers. Second, truckers began adding additional or larger alternators to their trucks to power the various accessories and onboard systems. The additional power produces more heat in truck and trailer lights. Third, until the recent research conducted by Frommelt, no one recognized the danger of leaving a lighted trailer in contact with the dock seal.

Now, it is evident that the required identification lamps in close contact with the dock shelter can generate enough heat to ignite the seal — in as little as 20 minutes.

The costs of such fires can run high, perhaps into the millions when the fire spreads to destroy the contents of a trailer. At the least, they damage the dock seals, leading to premature replacement.

According to Frommelt, few companies realize that dock seals pose a serious threat and that the problem can be prevented. Eventually, trailer lights will use cool, LED lamps instead of the hot, incandescent lamps that now prevail. But that changeover will likely take years. Administrative measures such as ensuring that trailer lights are off when at the dock will also help. Use of fire- retardant materials in dock seals can also help reduce damage, but they can’t prevent fires. The most effective measure is the use of fire- resistant materials in dock seals designed to prevent the buildup of heat from hot-burning trailer lights.

Frommelt reports the number of undocumented fires caused by this phenomenon is likely to be substantially higher than the company-reported incidents. The company estimates there are well over 200,000 dock positions in the U.S. currently at risk for dock-seal fires.

“We find that most facility decision makers are totally unaware of the threat,” says Frommelt President Paul Rowlett. “What’s more, they also find it hard to believe it can happen to them.”

Additional information is available from Frommelt at 414-355-2600 or ritehite.com .