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Published March 26, 2012, 09:56 AM

Putting out fires

ABERDEEN, S.D. — The photo on the booth banner for AKE Safety Equipment seems to say it all — an unidentified North Dakota farmer, walking with a fire extinguisher in one hand in the foreground while a fire rages behind him, destroying his combine. A second fire extinguisher is visible on the outside of the cab, apparently unused.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

ABERDEEN, S.D. — The photo on the booth banner for AKE Safety Equipment seems to say it all — an unidentified North Dakota farmer, walking with a fire extinguisher in one hand in the foreground while a fire rages behind him, destroying his combine. A second fire extinguisher is visible on the outside of the cab, apparently unused.

Allen Kronebusch, a volunteer firefighter who owns a company that makes and sells fire extinguishers, says he bought the picture from a photographer.

“The way it was told to me was that the farmer’s conventional fire extinguishers didn’t work when he went to use them. A common problem people have is that the chemical powder will get hard in the bottom, maybe through the machine bouncing up and down constantly — it compacts,” he says. “When they go to use them, even though the gauge shows in the ‘green,’ what comes out is some of the powder but all of the pressurizing agent and a lot of the powder is left inside the canister.”

Kronebusch grew up in Winona, Minn. He attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth for a year and then became a sales representative for Safety Plus, an extinguisher company based in Kentucky. In 1992, he bought the manufacturing equipment from that company, and operated under Allen Kronebusch Enterprises, and runs it in Oronoco, a town of about 1,300 people, some eight miles north of Rochester, Minn. Initially the extinguishers were filled with “halon gases,” and were United Laboratories listed.

“My first customers were farmers,” Kronebusch says. He started selling his wares across the country, opening sales offices in cities such as Atlanta and Chicago. New manufacture of halon was banned in the mid-1990s because of damage to the ozone in the atmosphere. Kronebusch sold conventional dry chemical powder units until 2008, when he came up with a replacement for Halon.

Internet sites carry criticisms for AKE’s marketing system from 2007 to 2009, but Agweek could find no negative comments about the product. Kronebusch says he won a lawsuit against a former high-level employee in Chicago, and in 2009 sold off the non-agriculture part of the business. About that time, he started marketing the products as Stop-Fyre, primarily to farmers.

Halon extinguishers have largely been taxed out of the market because they depleted the ozone. Other replacement gases called “clean agents” were developed to replace the Halon gases. Kronebusch says that’s what he’s selling. The company didn’t pursue UL listing after changing the gas formula to keep the price affordable and for the confidentiality of the contents.

“I paid somebody to develop the Stop-Fyre gas, but we make it,” he says. “It is our own blend of fire suppression gases. You cannot patent a formula, I’m told. It’s like Coca-Cola, they just keep the formula secret.”

Multi-shot design

Farmers and others simply buy the dry powder type extinguishers, Kronebusch says, acknowledging they’re about one-fourth the initial cost. The difference is the maintenance, he says. Stop-Fyre is billed as a “multi-shot unit,” Kronebusch says, an aerosol, that can be used in small doses without recharging.

Most of the dry extinguishers suggest the owner shake it regularly, as much as monthly. They are supposed to be professionally serviced every year, Kronebusch says. If dry powder models are used once, they are supposed to be serviced (professionally), and after six years the powder is supposed to be removed. After 12 years they typically need a hydrostatic test to “pump it up with water to make sure it isn’t going to burst,” he says.

Kronebusch says dry powder extinguishers are corrosive and messy. They are bulkier and heavier than the Stop-Fyre unit. “We designed ours to be simple. I have a video showing my four-year-old son doing it. We have units on farms for 20 years and they’re in as good a condition now as when they were bought,” he says.

AKE Safety Equipment offers an unconditional, lifetime, no-hassle guarantee, Kronebusch says. “If it ever leaks or breaks, we stand behind the product,” he says. It’s not a limited warranty, as most extinguishers carry.

The small, three-pound model can handle a good-sized kitchen grease fire. The extinguisher costs $200. A medium size is $300 and handles twice that.

The best-selling model is the 12.25-inch tall, 3-inch diameter model, without a pressure gauge, at $500, which does five times what the small one will. Kronebusch says the only way to tell how much material an extinguisher has in it is by weighing. A gauge simply measures the pressure that propels the contents. The large extinguisher with the gauge is $600. The gauge is needed for Department of Transportation and U.S. Coast Guard inspections on trucks and boats.

Combine fires have been more of a problem in the past several years, especially with sunflowers. The product was written about in the Midwest Farm and Livestock Directory because one of the extinguishers put out a 3-foot diameter bean field fire, and then put out a combine fire.

Kronebusch says company tests show that the gases are “drawn to the fire” and will stay at the fire source until it’s out unless a big gust of wind blows it away. An air compressor or water dousing may be needed to get rid of the fire source.

Farmers often carry a water extinguisher on the combine. “There’s nothing wrong with that, because water is effective against Class A fires, and that’s going to be a common type of fire you’re going to have on a combine, where dust and chaff builds up. Maybe it’s near the engine or a hot bearing and it starts on fire. Water can be very effective on that, but if you have anything that’s obstructed, it’s going to be very difficult for the water to get to it,” he says.

“And what if you have (a fire that takes) more than water? You have a Class A fire, but you also have hydraulic fluid or oil? Water can make that worse. So it’s not a bad idea to have a multi-class, multi-purpose fire extinguisher,” Kronebusch says.

Marketing options

Stop-Fyre is billed as the official fire extinguisher for the National Tractor Pullers Association, a designation it’s held for about a year. It can be found on Web at www.AKE.com and at www.fireguy.com.

He sells the Stop-Fyre as a multi-class or “multi-purpose” extinguisher, but no third- party testing lab has listed it for that. The Stop-Fyre is suggested for storing above freezing, but can work in any temperature, Kronebusch says. The same thing could be said about powder extinguishers or other pressurized equipment.

John Arens, a prevention officer for the Fargo (N.D.) Fire Department, says multi-purpose powder chemical-type extinguishers are still recommended for commercial and other use. He doesn’t know if they’re less effective if stored at extreme temperatures, but he hasn’t heard of any problems if extinguishers are stored at cold temperatures.

Arens says a standard “2A10B:C” unit is the minimum allowable size for commercial purposes. The “A” in the designation represents ordinary combustible materials such as paper, cloth and wood. The B is for flammable liquids and the C is for live electrical fires. The numbers represent size.

Arens acknowledges there are maintenance requirements to meet city commercial codes. At six years, for example, the powder should be dumped and replaced. At 12 years, there should be a hydrostatic pressure test. Sometimes, it costs just a little more to replace the extinguisher, he says. Part of his work is conducting classes with extinguishers. Often, the tests are done with extinguishers that have reached their expiration dates. “Out of the hundreds that I’ve used, I’ve had only one that didn’t work,” Arens says.

He declined to comment on Stop-Fyre because he doesn’t know anything about the containers or their contents.

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