By Tanna M. Friday
Fire safety equipment has a big impact in reducing loss of life and property in a fire. When it comes to your home, a fire extinguisher is layer of security that you can add to your home’s fire safety plan. But what about the needed security of fire protection in other places such as local restaurants, mining, school buses, or in the United States’ military tactical wheeled vehicles? All of which could save lives, time and money should a fire occur.
Amerex Corporation in Trussville is recognized worldwide as a leader in the manufacturer of commercial and industrial fire extinguishers and fire suppression products. Established in 1971, Amerex Corporation continues to manufacture and provide fire protection products in portable extinguishers, and fire suppression systems for vehicle, kitchen, industrial and military applications.
For almost 50 years, Trussville’s Amerex Corporation has earned a reputation for excellence in the fire protection industry and continues to be innovative in their mission to protect people and property. In fact, thousands of Amerex products are produced and shipped to customers worldwide. But regardless of the high production levels, employees say safety has always been a top priority at Amerex.
“We provide life, building, and equipment safety products,” said Jonathan Carter, Marketing Manager for Amerex Corporation. “Most people are familiar with portable fire extinguishers. They see them and the diamond logo every day, even when they don’t realize it.”
“We hang our hat on quality, service, and innovation,” said Carter. “Throughout the decades we have innovated newer products that the industry did not have but were needed. We went to third-party testing agencies to discuss potential fire hazards, and look for a new development. A couple of examples are the water-mist extinguisher for the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) rooms and the Class K extinguisher for commercial grease fires.”
You may be familiar with the portable fire extinguisher, where it’s located in your home or business, but may not realize that a fire extinguisher does not work on all types of fires. Carter explains that there are many different types (or classes) of fire extinguishers just as there are many different classes of fires. These five classes include Class A (wood, paper, or pulp); Class B (flammable liquid or gas); Class C (live electrical equipment); Class D (metals such as titanium, zirconium, magnesium, and sodium); and Class K (cooking media).
“We make a premium, quality product,” said Guy Jones, Product Manager, Extinguishers. “We have the ability to make up to 19,000 fire extinguishers per day, but currently produce around 15,000 per day. When the market demands, we can flex up to that 19,000.”
“My job as product manager is to make sure that we are getting the right products to the right place,” said Jones. “We are a compliance and a life safety industry. We want to make sure that we are not only supplying the right product, but also a high-quality product. This is people’s lives and property that we are dealing with here. We want to make sure that we are supplying the best product for that application.”
According to Carter, new product development is engineered in the Trussville facility and product testing is carried out in the Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL) headquarters in Northbrook, IL.
“We are constantly developing products and product improvements in portable extinguishers,” said Carter. “Extending into kitchen and vehicle systems as well. We are always doing something in our lab and fire testing building.”
“UL is the body that certifies our products,” said Jones, who shares the value of safety at Amerex. “For each program there are standards that have to be fully met. We meet both of those standards for each extinguisher.”
“They are at our facility two to three times a week to see if we are producing the product we tested,” said Jones. “Because we consistently meet and exceed these guidelines, we have the high degree of confidence that we are placing a good product into the marketplace. Along with that, you have quality and reliability.”
“We have controls here to administer a leak check,” said Carter. “This is done on each and every one of our extinguishers prior to being boxed and shipped to our distributors.”
All of which Carter shares that meet UL guidelines and testing and what the industry calls for. Exceeding them is how Amerex sells their products competitively.
In addition to Amerex’s major product line of hand-portable and wheeled fire extinguishers, another business unit, Amerex Defense, occupies a 3,000 square foot office building with a 4,000 square foot test and development laboratory which was developed specifically for live fire simulations designed specifically for rugged and demanding military applications.
“We provide innovative and reliable fire suppression solutions to our war fighters at home and abroad,” said Mier. “We work primarily through well-established government distributors and defense industry original equipment manufacturers (OEM). We offer a full line of hand portable extinguishers, specialty wheeled units and fire suppression systems. Our product offering is currently used to protect U.S. military personnel and tactical ground vehicle assets, as well as those of U.S. foreign government allies.”
“For instance, we have created a product for a four door or two door tactical wheeled vehicle that houses up to five crew members,” said Mier. “If an improvised explosive device (IED), otherwise known as roadside bomb, were to come in contact and cause an internal fuel explosion inside the cab, our high-speed optical detection system is designed to suppress a fire in a fourth of a second. Our goal is to continue to develop a product to support troops and aid in their survival during combat.”
“We designed a system that fits a very specific area inside a crew cab, where there is no wasted space and is very tight,” said Mier. “Once it is designed and integrated, the OEM’s like Oshkosh, will take the vehicle to Aberdeen, Maryland where everything is tested. They blow it up, shoot rocket propelled grenades (RPG) at it, and generally expose the vehicle to catastrophic events. Our equipment has to survive.”
In addition to military tactical wheeled vehicles, Amerex Corporation also focuses on fire suppression for on-road and off-road vehicles found in the mass transit, mining, waste management, and forestry industry.
“We apply vehicle suppression systems on mega sized mining equipment all the way to something pretty simple like a pick-up truck,” said Alan Fulton, Project Manager of Vehicle Systems. “This system automatically detects and suppresses a fire. We have brand name recognition in the transit industry. People refer to it as the Amerex system. We are heavy in the waste industry, forestry, agriculture, and active in the mining industry.”
Fulton adds that a majority of buses in the mass transit industry, rely on Amerex vehicle systems as an important life safety measure.
“There is a bill pending that was introduced by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen Tennessee, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth Illinois, that directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to implement new school bus safety rules,” said Fulton. “The bill would require school buses be equipped with fire suppression systems and a firewall to keep engine fires from spreading into the passenger compartment.”
“Much like a thermostat in your home that says okay I need more heat or cold,” said Fulton. “This system works very similar to that, in that it turns the fire suppression system on.”
Fulton adds that there are three pieces to the vehicle system: detection (detecting the fire); actuation (opens the valve); and suppression (flowing of the agent). There is a controlled device that is placed in the hazard area, which is in the engine compartment, that looks for the detection which actuates the cylinder. There are nozzles surrounding the engine connected to a cylinder that is automatically actuated.
“It is very effective and thorough in what it does,” said Fulton. “You would be surprised that a little amount of agent can create that great amount of action.”
Fulton adds that Alabama is not required to have these fire suppression systems on buses.
In addition to portable/wheeled extinguishers and reliable fire suppression solutions to our war fighters and vehicles, Amerex offers fire suppression systems to commercial kitchens around the world.
According to Michael Gaston, Product Manager of Amerex Kitchen and Industrial Systems, this business unit is designed to accommodate the needs of building and restaurant owners in order to protect their property and ensure the safety of the people.
“Restaurant and industrial systems is one of Amerex’s smaller product lines, but one that is growing,” said Gaston. “Every commercial kitchen has to have a fire suppression system. The industrial systems, however, are a little more varied. They go into places like vehicle paint spray booths, which protect the fire hazards that exist with these flammable vapors.”
Gaston adds that Amerex produces systems for around 8,000 kitchens per year.
“Our largest area of growth has been internationally,” said Gaston. “We have a pretty good chunk of kitchen systems out there. Now we are going overseas to protect kitchens around the world.”
“The United States has always had strong safety rules for commercial kitchens somewhat driven by the insurance agencies, said Gaston. “And International markets have realized the need for this, so they are starting to come around to the same rules and standards that the U.S. holds. So, as those markets develop rules to protect kitchens, we are starting to see a lot more demand in those markets.”
The latest development in the restaurant and industrial systems area is electronics.
“The restaurant systems that we are most familiar with are mechanical,” said Gaston. “They are not like Mier and Fulton’s technology of detecting the fire electrically. It relies on technology that has been around for decades, maybe a century. Most of the systems are requiring a mechanical device to melt away before it can trigger the fire system.”
“We pride ourselves in innovation here at Amerex,” said Gaston. “We are the first kitchen fire suppression company to offer electric detection. The list of ground-breaking features and benefits of this new system is extensive, and it is gaining traction in the marketplace. We really think it is the future of the kitchen suppression industry.”
“It really allows us to build off of the other existing technology and systems we already utilize elsewhere,” said Gaston. “So, by having those different areas, protecting the vehicle, the military, and the portables, we take the expertise from each of those and make the other areas better.”
Gaston shares that the most exciting thing he has experienced in the industry is the amount of change internationally in kitchen systems.
“I would say 10 years ago that we sold very little kitchen systems internationally, which is completely different today,” said Gaston. “Watching how the world realizes the need for similar safety rules to protect their employees and equipment and seeing how we are seen as experts in the industry is exciting.”
“Knowing that you are protecting people, especially with some of these industrial systems we manufacture, and that you are protecting families, fathers, mothers is motivating to me,” adds Gaston. “Without those systems, people are in danger of not making it home each day. That really brings me to work.”
“Truly, our team protects people around the globe,” said Gaston. “I would say that everybody here, when they take a step back and think what Amerex is really about, it’s really about protecting people, protecting their property and making the world a safer place. That is what we really do.”