Preventing and Fighting a Bus Fire

by George Lyle

OK, it's time for George's Fairly-Annual Fuel and Fire Rant:

(This rant is obviously aimed at Type 1 engines, others edit as needed!)

The absolute best way to put out an engine fire is to _not_ have one in the first place. That means that you need to replace rubber fuel hoses regularly. Don't replace them "tomorrow" or "when I get around to it" or "the next time the engine is out". Replace them in January of every even-numbered year, or devise your own system of timing. Every leaking fuel hose was "just fine" a month before the leak, and the only way to avoid problems is to make sure that the hoses don't get old enough to have problems. They get old fast with the witch's brew they call gasoline these days!

Be sure to use the proper metric size fuel hose and install it in a workmanlike manner. That means hose clamps on all pressurized connections (or all connections if you are paranoid like me).

Be sure that the fuel ports on the fuel pump and carb are tight by giving 'em a good tug with a pair of pliers. If they come out, clean them up with carb cleaner, let dry, rough up the surface of the tube by rolling it with a file, put a thin coat of JB-Weld (or other fuel-proof epoxy) on the roughed up surface, tap the tube back into place, and let cure. Really paranoid folks safety-wire the hoses to the fuel pump. Those little in-line filters aren't such a good idea. If you want to use a filter, get a metal one and make sure that it is secured properly.

When replacing the hoses, cast a jaundiced eye on the metal fuel line where it passes through the front tin. There should be a rubber bushing in this hole, but it is often missing. The tin will cut through the metal line. This will cause a fuel leak on both sides of the firewall and if a fire starts here it will be almost impossible to put out. If the bushing is missing, check the metal line for a groove and replace it if a groove is present. I've found that Chevy pickup brake tubing (scavenged from a wreck) is just the correct OD and has a thicker wall than the original tubing. I also made the end that passes through the front tin a bit longer to move the rubber hose further from the #3 exhaust pipe. For a bushing, I use a piece of thick inner tube rubber wrapped around and around the metal line and then shoved into the front tin hole. Others like the Hoover fitting made using lamp parts.

When replacing hoses, don't forget that there is a hose that runs from the fuel tank to the metal line in front of the engine. This line is under the bus and is the usual culprit in "engine" fires.

OK, your bus is fireproof, but one day you are rolling down the road and come upon another bus owned by someone who doesn't read the list. There is a fire starting and smoke starting to billow. What do you do?

OK, grab that big fire extinguisher and exit your bus (leaving it at least 20 yards from the burning vehicle). Ready your extinguisher for action, but don't get trigger happy. First determine where the fire is.

If it's under the bus, you'll see smoke billowing up the sides but not so much from the vents. If it's under the bus it's pretty hard to put out, but you might try laying on the left side of the bus and trying to hit the flames from the side.

If it's in the engine bay, the lid will have to be opened up so that you can shoot the flames. This is tricky, as the original poster has found. The thing to remember is that fire tends to go upward, so if the thing flares at you you need to go down and away to the rear. Wait for the flare to subside, then attack the flame.

There are no half-measures when using a fire extinguisher. Once you hit that trigger, keep it down until the extinguisher is exhausted. If you use half the extinguisher and then the fire reignites, do you think you will kill it with the other half of the extinguisher? Not likely! It costs exactly the same to fill an empty extinguisher as a half-full extinguisher, so go ahead and shoot the works.

Before you attack a fire, you need to ask yourself if the vehicle you might save is worth the risk to your own life and limb. As much as it pains me to see a bus burnt to the ground, I would _really_ hate to see anyone hurt in the process of trying to save one, even my own. The decision to fight a fire is yours alone and you should consider your options carefully before rushing into danger.

OK, rant over. I feel much better now.

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