As devastating wildfires make headlines around the world, Alden Spencer, global product manager for ANSUL Vehicle Systems at Johnson Controls, discusses the fire risks inherent to forestry operations and how the latest, non-fluorinated vehicle fire suppression systems can help keep operations safe, sustainable and profitable.

WILDFIRES: intense, dangerous and an increasingly prominent topic of conversation in the global forestry industry over the past few years. Though Britain is unlikely to experience blazes on the same scale as recent events in Australia and California, according to figures from the Met Office the UK should prepare to see more fires break out in the coming decades. As the global climate warms, winters in Britain are expected to become warmer and wetter, leading to increased plant growth. At the same time, the UK’s summers are forecasted to get hotter and drier – creating a perfect storm for large-scale forest fires.

In light of these emerging challenges, the forestry industry will need to pay closer attention than ever to equipment safety and the fire risks posed by heavy machinery. Indeed, figures from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) show that between 10 and 25 per cent of German forest fires are caused by agricultural or forestry activities, while the US Forest Service found that equipment use accounted for 11 per cent of all fires between 1996 and 2017. With increased threat from fires on the horizon, foresters have a key role to play in helping protect the nations’ woodlands and, consequently, their income streams.

To this end, installing a fast-acting and effective vehicle fire suppression systems is more essential than ever – not only to preserve ecologically diverse and economically significant forests, but to safeguard people, specialised equipment and profits from the effects of fire. System performance and cost-effectiveness are often the primary factors driving purchasing decisions around vehicle suppression systems. But with governments becoming more concerned about the effects suppression agents featuring per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) can have on flora, fauna, soil and water sources, the environmental impact of suppression systems is becoming a key consideration.

Forestry Journal:


From harvesters to forwarders and transport trucks, the forestry industry relies on large, high-powered vehicles. While the technology fuelling these machines is constantly evolving, no matter how advanced the model, forestry vehicles remain one of the biggest sources of fire risk in forests. Surrounded by combustible fuel, hydraulic fluids and highly flammable materials like sawdust and dead trees, vehicle engines and blade motors can become super-heated after hours of prolonged usage, potentially leading to sparks or – in extreme cases – spontaneous combustion. The safety risks to both staff and the local environment are further intensified by the fact that most felling sites are located in remote, rugged environments, meaning emergency service support can take hours to arrive.

READ MORE: UK 'too vulnerable' to global timber market fluctuations, says FLS

When a vehicle catches alight, there is only a narrow window of opportunity to prevent a small fire from sparking a major blaze, especially during periods of hot, dry weather. Once established, forest fires can travel at a rate of six miles per hour, spreading rapidly and causing significant harm to local plant and wildlife populations, not to mention threatening nearby homes or businesses. As such, a rapid response to forestry vehicle fires is essential for preventing equipment loss, safeguarding staff and protecting precious natural landscapes.


As time is such a critical factor when it comes to vehicle fires, specialised on-board suppression systems have been developed to provide a fast and targeted response to flames. These vehicle fire suppression systems are designed and tested for use in specific environments, taking into account factors such as vibration, ambient temperature, moisture levels and the amount of flammable material in the vicinity which could be vulnerable to combustion. Vehicle-mounted fire safety solutions operate in a similar manner to portable fire extinguishers and industrial fire-suppression systems. They discharge an agent into the engine bay or other high-heat areas to blanket the fire and cool the entire area to below the flash point (450°C), or the lowest temperature at which the vapours given off by a volatile substance can ignite if given an ignition source. This suppression method is highly effective, but often results in foams or wet agents overflowing from the engine bay and falling onto the forest floor. Given the agent will often come into contact with plants, bodies of water or animals when employed in a forestry context, the environmental impact of the substances used in vehicle suppression systems becomes a primary concern, particularly in the wake of tightening regulations.


Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a common ingredient of Class B firefighting foams and agent concentrates due to their ability to starve flames of oxygen and remain stable even when exposed to high temperatures.

Though these chemicals have been used successfully for decades, in recent years perceptions of PFAS have begun to shift due to emerging evidence of their harmful impact on the planet. Extremely persistent and largely non-biodegradable, PFAS also have a low Predicted No Effect Concentration (PNEC) score, meaning that just a small amount of the chemicals entering the soil, ground or surface water can have a negative effect on local plant and animal populations. With these concerns in mind, national regulatory bodies have begun to enact stricter controls on the use and production of PFAS, particularly in the context of fire-suppression applications.

Forestry Journal:


The manufacture of PFAS has been restricted to Class B fire-fighting foams or liquid fuel suppression systems alone since 2018. During this period, multiple international organisations – including the European Union (EU), US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme (AICIS) – have all implemented additional controls on the sale and distribution of these controversial chemicals.

READ MORE: Production to start at Komatsu Forest One

Looking ahead, regulations seem set to become even tighter, with a report commissioned by the European Chemicals Agency in 2020 recommending a gradual phasing out of PFAS over the next 3–6 years for the vast majority of applications.

These changes will have significant implications for the forestry industry, which not only needs fast-acting, reliable suppression agents, but often requires them to be deployed in remote natural locations. Fortunately, a new generation of non-fluorinated suppression agents is emerging to give contractors a more sustainable alternative to the traditional PFAS-based formulas.


It’s well established that a fast, decisive response to fire is crucial in forestry operations. But suppression agents must equally be versatile, easy to install (even on legacy vehicles) and compliant with all major regulatory standards to give contractors complete peace of mind.

Specifically designed to meet these criteria, the Johnson Controls’ ANSUL LVS non-fluorinated liquid suppression agent is a prime example of a new generation of new fluorine-free vehicle suppression solutions. The new agent provides fast flame knock-down, blanketing to cut off oxygen and rapid cooling of surrounding areas to help prevent reflash. Easily retrofittable into existing liquid vehicle systems (LVS), the ANSUL LVS liquid suppression agent offers an ideal combination of performance, ease of use and lowered environmental impact, helping keep forestry operations safe and sustainable.


As the old saying goes, out of adversity comes opportunity. Though climate change continues to pose new challenges, the forestry industry is responding with innovative forest management strategies; conducting comprehensive risk assessments, diversifying woodlands with more resilient species and introducing fire breaks to help halt the spread of wildfires. With the development of high-performance, non-fluorinated suppression systems, the fire safety sector is rising to support the evolving needs of foresters, across the UK and around the world. Equipped with the latest suppression solutions, contractors can be confident that their vehicles, people, and profits are kept safe – sustainably.

Forestry Journal remains dedicated to bringing you all the latest news and views from across our industry, plus up-to-date information on the impacts of COVID-19.

Please support us by subscribing to our print edition, delivered direct to your door, from as little at £75 for 1 year – or consider a digital subscription from just £1 for 3 months.

To arrange, follow this link:

Thanks – and stay safe.