Negligence Can Lead To Compressor Fires – True Story

Back in 2006 I was a newly promoted service manager when I received an after hours call from our largest customer. The customer told me that one of his compressors had started a fire and half of the large compressor room was destroyed. The fire department was still in the process of extinguishing the fire, and they wanted an expert on scene immediately. As quickly as I could I jumped in my service truck and drove the two hours to Cedartown, GA. I met the Maintenance Manager in the parking lot and we received the clearance to enter the building and begin the process of assessing the damage and attempt to determine the cause of the fire. In order to save money, this company had been doing their own preventative maintenance, minor repairs, and purchased their own parts and oil through an online source. The customer only contacted our local air compressor company for new rotary screw purchases, warranty work, and large repairs that their team wasn’t able to facilitate. They had over 10 rotary screw compressors at this location and a mix of different brands including, Gardner-Denver, Sullair, and Quincy compressors. The compressor that started the fire was a Sullair LS-25-200 rotary screw air compressor. The fire was so hot that it melted the air compressors on either side of it. To the left was a Gardner Denver EBQ99F 150HP Electra-Saver II and on the right was a Quincy QSI-1000 200HP. The control boards, control tubing, and all plastic pieces on the machines were melted into puddles. Several machines were a total loss and needed to be replaced. The start of the fire was determined to be a high temperature safety switch that had been bypassed by their new 3rd shift maintenance technician. This violation coupled with the use of an unapproved aftermarket oil not rated for the correct flashpoint caused this catastrophic event. 

We were able to help provide several solutions to this customer. First we did a rapid installation of several large stationary rotary screw air compressors that we temporarily connected to their system. This allowed the manufacturer to restart operations in under 24 hours. Secondly, we were able to acquire and install two brand new 200HP air compressors in less than a week. Thirdly, the customer agreed to let our legendary service team conduct monthly safety checks on all of their air compressors, air dryers, air receivers, and distribution systems to ensure OSHA compliance. We also switched the oil from the unapproved aftermarket oil to the proper type/brands of oil. 

From that incident until now the customer hasn’t had any major compressor failures or incidents. Investing in proper preventative maintenance and allowing certified technicians to conduct repairs is expensive, but not as expensive as lost production and large insurance claims due to negligence.