Container handlers are mobile, rubber-tired, machines that are used to load and stack standard containers at a variety of shipping terminals. The machines resemble oversized forklifts but are equipped with shipping container lift spreaders instead of forks. The machines are often equipped with sophisticated computer systems that inform the operator which container needs to be lifted as well as its destination, whether it is a truck, train, or storage stack.
A container handler caught fire and burned at a shipping terminal, destroying the machine as well as blocking traffic and limiting the capacity of a shipping terminal. The container handler’s diesel engine had recently been replaced.
Much of the combustible material in the machine’s engine bay had been consumed by the fire. Several of the rubber tires had been ignited by the fire and one wheel assembly had been separated from the machine during the firefighting effort.
The machine operator reported that he had seen smoke and then flames coming from the engine bay, which was directly in front of the operator’s cab. The machine was traveling at the time of the fire but was not carrying a load.
Inspection of the site revealed a path of fluid on the container yard asphalt that extended more than 100 feet behind the container handler final rest position. Inspection of the container handler revealed that the fire had originated in the engine bay and had consumed most of the combustible materials in that area.
The electrical and fuel systems of the container handler were traced and found to have no conditions that caused the fire. The hydraulic and lubricating systems were also found to have no conditions that caused the fire.
A small diameter engine coolant hose had been routed across the top of the engine from the radiator to the area above the engine exhaust and turbocharger. This coolant hose had separated from its connecting fitting over the exhaust and turbocharger. The hose had been secured to the connecting fitting by a single hose clamp, which was found to be loose. The hose had not been supported or restrained by hose clamps along its approximate five foot length and was free to vibrate and move during operation of the container handler.
Engine coolant, even though diluted with water, can easily ignite when it is sprayed as a mist onto heated engine components. The fire was caused by improper installation of the engine coolant hose by the engine installer.
John Phillips, senior consulting engineer at Warren, has more than 30 years of crane and heavy equipment experience and more than 19 years of experience in forensic engineering. A licensed professional engineer in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana and Ohio, he’s NCEES registered both as a model engineer and with The United States Council for International Engineering Practice, USCIEP. John has designed crane systems, supervised installation, tested and certified lifting equipment even serving as a project engineer for maintenance and certification of nuclear weapon lifting and handling systems. John is a certified fire and explosion investigator and fire and explosion investigator instructor by the National Association of Fire Investigators. John is a member of the American Society of Materials and American Society of Testing and Materials, as well as a voting member of ASTM Ships & Marine Forensic Sciences, Forensic Engineering, and Performance of Buildings committees.