Case Study: Remondis Thermal Fire Detection

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Visium operators spotted the fire at Remondis using thermal cameras
Visium operators spotted the fire at Remondis using thermal cameras

Remondis Northgate had been using thermal camera technology to help monitor waste materials to mitigate risk of fire for 18 months when a recent outbreak of fire proved its Visium-installed solution offered excellent early warning, allowing the rapid implementation of procedures and swift emergency response. 

REMONDIS Northgate is a waste transfer station that receives domestic and commercial general solid waste, removes recyclables before shipping the residual waste in bulk to landfill. A key part of the Remondis operation is the acceptance and bulking up of waste from waste collection trucks that occasionally include hot loads - waste materials that include an unwanted heat source like hot coals, or chemicals that may combust. 

It goes without saying that these flammables, combined with large amounts of combustible waste, constitute a high fire risk. Another potential risk at waste facilities is the spontaneous combustion caused by heat generated from decomposition. And it’s vital to catch waste fires early to reduce the toxic fumes they produce and ensure that they can be put out before their size and heat make the task too difficult to quickly manage.

Catching fires early means early detection and over the years, various fire detection technologies have been used at this and other MRF sites, including smoke beams and thermal detectors. But because of the persistent dust and open breezeways, these detection technologies have typically generated many false alarms, while being slow to alarm on actual combustion. Clearly, a smarter solution was needed.

In terms of size, the Remondis site features 2 buildings – an office and amenities building and the transfer station, a large shed covering several acres of land. The integrator of the security and safety solution at Remondis is Visium Networks, which also monitors and maintains the integrated solution.  

Built around ICT’s Protege GX alarm/access control platform, integrated with Visium’s own camera range and recording solutions, it's a complex and high-end integration. Visium chose a redundant fibre optic network, cabinets, switches and power systems, designed and installed by Visium’s own technicians. Given the size of the site and the complexity of the Remondis operation, many components have special firmware to support Visium’s video and management services over IP. Visium’s security backbone is a redundant security LAN installed in dedicated cabinets and racks with tamper alarms. In this challenging semi-industrial environment, Visium selected products capable of handling harsh conditions. As well as being robust, network field switches have UPS backup.

Important to our story, in terms of this backend, monitoring takes place at Visium’s Video Alarm Monitoring Centre, which has an IP services desk that monitors ICT Protege for real time services over IP. In fact, the entire topology at Remondis enables the delivery of real time services, like video verification of alarm events, and remote video-managed access via the external control room. A suite of applications Visium has written around logistics management support these services.

Part of the existing security and safety solution at Remondis is fire monitoring using FLIR thermal cameras – highly sensitive to temperature changes, thermal cameras provide early alerts and these alerts ensure quick response to fires to ensure they’re contained and put out before escalating out of control. From a technical perspective, the Flir camera integrates into the Protege GX alarm panel, which does the alarm reporting using ICT’s Armor IP protocol, which is encrypted and polled. This then generates an alarm event in Visium’s in-house VU alarm automation software. The VU Suite also facilitates system uptime monitoring including video lost, HDD fail and other system exceptions, so it allows operators to keep an eye on the health of devices, including the all-important thermal cameras.

According to Visium’s management information specialist, Chloe Farmer, the great advantage of thermal cameras is their ability to be used as an advanced fire detector. 

“Unlike other more conventional fire detectors such as smoke alarms, thermal cameras can detect a potential fire before it breaks into open flame or at least at the very early stages of a fire,” Farmer explains. “This means thermal cameras are ideal for early recognition of spontaneous fires inside rubbish tips, and paper and recycling plants. A fire in these high-risk sites can be disastrous for both personnel, people in the general area and the environment - not to mention the cost of property damage.”

When it comes to installing and commissioning the thermal camera, Farmer says the process involves more design considerations than normal CCTV as the coverage is very specific but she points out that otherwise, it's not too dissimilar to a regular CCTV install – a camera is mounted, cabled and commissioned in the usual ways. According to Farmer, the extreme sensitivity of thermal cameras to heat makes them ideal for fire detection. 

“Thermographic images from thermal cameras can detect hot spots, accurately measuring temperature within the cameras field of view and triggering an alarm output at various temperature thresholds,” she says. “These temperature thresholds are integrated with the onsite alarm system to generate an alarm straight to Visium’s monitoring centre where an operator can visually verify if a fire has started or is starting.” 

For Remondis, the thermal zones are integrated into specific areas and generate the highest priority alarm in the Visium VU automation suite, which prioritises fire/temp events to the top of the queue 

“Generally, the first alarm is set at 150 degrees C and when the camera detects this temperature, it sends through the alarm and the video footage,” Farmer says. “Operators can then action the event accordingly. The 150-degree zone is disarmed on schedule during the day as heat sources like bulldozer exhaust can reach this temperature. The higher temp zone set to around 350 degrees C and is armed 24/7.”

According to Farmer, this dual-temp monitoring eliminated the spurious alarms from the plant during operational hours though comes in to play after hours for very early over temperature detection. Addressing heat sources over 150 degrees after hours can readily address potential fire sources before they come to an issue by control room staff contacting site management to attend.

Farmer was in the Visium control room at the time of the fire event and she says the early warning provided by the system facilitated the instigation of procedures with minimal fuss and much less pressure on the team than might otherwise have been the case. 

“I was in the control room at the time,” Farmer says. “My co-worker opened the alarm and we both visually verified the fire onsite at Remondis. The image from the thermal camera was clear and made it easier for us both to quickly agree that yes, there was a flame and that 000 needed to be called. Importantly, we had great footage of the event in real time even even though we were in an off-site control room. When video footage is clear it helps operators to make a quick decision on whether they are receiving a false alarm, or the system has detected a real fire.” 

According to Farmer, when the camera detected the first lower temperature of 150 degrees at 7:32pm it sent an alarm to the control room and during the process of actioning the first alarm, the high temperature alarm of 350 degrees C came through at 7:34pm, confirming the escalating temperature of a fire that was by then being viewed on the thermal cameras streaming video. 

“If there really is a fire, the first temperature alarm will soon be followed by the high-temperature alarm at 350 degrees,” Farmer explains. “Once the operator had visual verification that there was a fire on site 000 was called and the operator was able to tell the fire brigade how large the fire was and where onsite it was located. 

“Sometimes the fire brigade will request further information such as what kind of materials seem to be burning and what other potential fuel sources are onsite. The operator then advised the fire brigade that they should call our networks operations office when they got to the site so that they could remotely open the gate and let the fire trucks in. 

“The operator then called the contacts listed in the alarm activation for that site,” Farmer says. “Remondis contacts were advised there was a fire onsite and the fire brigade was on their way. Typically, some people choose to go to site in an alarm event and others request that the Visium networks operations centre keeps them advised as to what is happening. In this case, the after-hours contact decided to head to the site. Once the fire brigade was at the entry gate, around 7.47pm, they called the networks operations centre and the operator opened the gate remotely for the fire trucks and personnel to go through and the fire was extinguished by 7.55pm.” 

According to Farmer, in the case of the Remondis fire, the fire brigade called back the networks operations centre and requested that someone come to the site and use the machinery there to further break up the rubbish piles and disperse the heat that was generating inside the decomposing rubbish. 

“The operator then called the Remondis contact that was already on their way to the site. That person confirmed that they were able to operate the machinery to break up the rubbish piles,” Farmer explains. “When the fire brigade was done the operator remotely opened the gates and let the fire trucks and personnel out of the site.       
   
Conclusion

The rapid resolution of the fire at Remondis can be positively compared with the fire at a similar site at Coolaroo in Victoria in July. Detected late, the Coolaroo fire burned for days, releasing smoke and toxic fumes, and causing evacuations and hospitalisations. While the fast response and thorough work of the fire brigade resolved the fire, it was Visium’s thermal camera installation and VU software reporting through ICT Protege for real time remote monitoring that really made the difference. 

“The early response of the thermal camera means that the alarm event puts less stress on everyone involved,” Farmer says. “As a monitoring operator, you can take comfort in being certain there is a fire and knowing you have caught the problem early, that there is time for the fire brigade to get on site before there if property damage or risk to life. 

“The last thing you want to do as an operator is call a client and inform them that half their property has burnt down or that people were injured. Catching something as major as a fire early gives you a great deal of job satisfaction. It also helps to be able to give the fire brigade useful information, such as how hot the fire is burning and what materials have potentially caught alight. We caught the fire early, so when the fire brigade showed up onsite they put the fire out in a matter of moments.

“The fire at Remondis demonstrated to me the importance of an early warning system. This fire was caught and put out before doing any damage to property or people. It was a best-case scenario made possible by the technology installed on this site and the video verification and remote managed access services provided by Visium Networks. Any business that wants to protect its property, personnel and people in surrounding areas should seriously consider installing thermal camera technology as an early warning system.” ♦