How Air Curtain Burner Operator Training Will Benefit Your Facility

Any facility that uses machinery operated by people runs more smoothly if operators are trained on their machinery. Workplace safety is optimized and smooth interaction with other operators and machines can achieved.  This means maximum productivity for the facility and profitability for the owners.

Air curtain burners, sometimes called air curtain destructors or air curtain incinerators, are offered in several styles and are used for many different purposes but all have one thing in common: they get rid of wood waste without the menace of smoke experienced with open burning, and they do so fast and efficiently – but only if run properly.

All of our air curtain burners are built to last and designed for easy and efficient operation. They are shipped with detailed operating manuals and service instructions. Unfortunately, most people tasked with running machinery or equipment, such as our air curtain machines, do not take the time to truly learn their tools. For instance, the excavator operator at the yard is quite sure he knows everything about the new burner, although he may never have seen one before. He starts the machine and trouble follows.

It’s good practice for management to step in before this happens. We, at Air Burners, have designed our machines to be as simple and foolproof to operate as possible. This applies to running the machine for its core purpose of eliminating waste wood while safeguarding the environment, servicing the machine to keep it in good condition and preserve its value as an asset, and finally, ensuring the safety of personnel at the facility. These points may sound like common sense, but we will address each of them to highlight their importance for the overall success of your facility and layout how to do things properly and what to avoid.

As the leading designers and manufacturers of air curtain machines, we’ve seen a thing or two. When our experts speak, everyone should pay attention. The best way to teach a person anything is by structured personal interaction between an instructor and a student or group of students. We have adopted this strategy from the outset and offer a formal Air Curtain Burner Operator Training and Certification program. The training package can be purchased as a line item with every machine. We have recently simplified this by offering fixed price packages – one priced for locations east of the Mississippi River and another west. BurnBoss training is part of the FireBox training program. A separate training package is available for trench burner or pit burner training. Contact our Sales Department for details and quotations.

Everything addressed here for the training and operation of FireBoxes and trench burners is also applicable in part to Air Burners revolutionary biomass-to-energy systems, i.e. the PGFireBox Model PGF-100. However, a totally separate training program is offered for the operation of these advanced systems.

In terms of training, our customer service technicians strictly follow a well-structured step-by-step manual and a precise syllabus informed by our many years’ of experience in the field. The operator training and certification session at the client’s site is spread over at least two days to cover the air curtain destructor operation from beginning to end through several variables or options of working with the machine. The session starts with “classroom training” and the major topics are outlined below.


Classroom Training: Purpose of an air curtain burner
The instructor first explains the principles of air curtain burning in simple terms. Basically, that the machine is a pollution control device to make traditional open burning much cleaner and faster. He then explains the purpose of the machine at the yard, field or facility, which is the disposal of untreated wood waste or other suitable vegetative waste in an efficient way, cleanly and quickly and within the constraints of permits that may be locally applicable. 


Classroom Training: Proper placement of the machine
The placement of the machine is an important consideration.  It must be positioned such that it is a distance away from burnable structures or vegetation. The area around the machine must be kept clean and managed, and the FireBox must be placed such that the prevailing winds come over the manifold side where it should be loaded from. A trench should be dug such that the prevailing winds blow over the long sides of the pit. FireBoxes can be dragged on their skids for repositioning and even for ash cleanout. In this case, you would open the rear doors in the morning and pull the FireBox forward allowing the ash to stay behind. This is most suitable for land clearing work where there is plenty of room to navigate. The instructor will point out how dragging should be done, explain lifting points and where cables or chains must be and where they cannot be attached. He will also point out what common mistakes to avoid, such as dragging through mud or over stumps, roots and rocks which can cause the refractory panels to be dislodged. Dragging a large Firebox is not an easy task. Always make sure that cables or chains are selected properly for handling such heavy loads.


Classroom Training: Loading equipment
The teacher then outlines what equipment is best for loading the machine, reviews buckets compared to rakes with hydraulic thumb and without, grapples and similar attachments for loading equipment. Is a Bobcat or Skidsteer ok or is hand loading also an option? The answers are dependent on the machine and local circumstances, all of which will be reviewed and the best options highlighted. He will also focus on safety considerations and minimizing fugitive dust. BurnBoss training will specifically focus on the safest way of hand loading and on ash removal by pulling the machine away from the burn place while keeping the tires and running gear clear of hot ashes.


Classroom Training: What kind of waste can be burned in the air curtain burner?
In this class, the operator learns what waste he can burn. The wood must be clean and untreated and not include any painted or chemically treated wood. It must be chunky, so air can circulate through the material once ignited in the burn box. Chunky wood will create a bed of hot coals in the bottom of the pit or FireBox, coals that will be needed to ignite the next load charged into the FireBox or trench.  The waste stream must not be made up of saw dust, mulch, grindings, leaves off the branches, straw, etc. These are all materials that are too dense. What happens if you try to burn this waste?  It will smolder, smoke, and remain. You end up cleaning out the box once it has cooled down as the waste did not go away. You’ve wasted your time and could also be presenting a risk to your business. Make sure to burn only approved waste streams or your facility could be shut down and even be fined by the environmental authorities. 

Most of the wood waste that fuels our worldwide waste problem is made up of wood that is perfect for reduction in our air curtain burners: tree trunks, branches, root balls, wood fetched from waterways called waterborne debris, woody debris from disasters, like hurricanes or tornadoes, wood from trimming fruit trees or from tree crop rotation in agriculture, slash from managing our forests for wild fire prevention, slash  from harvesting trees in the forest or at tree farms for pulp production and finally, spent pallets or end cuts from lumbering at saw mills or wood product manufacturing. Most of the time a discussion ensues at this point and the instructor responds to questions from his students that pertain to the waste that is being brought to the local facility. Can we burn plywood or particle wood? What about drywall? The explanation is, again, no wood debris that includes glue, paint, or anything like it, and no waste that is not woody, like plastic or garbage.

Any wood waste that is appropriate for burning in a FireBox is equally suitable for burning in the PGFireBox models; the revolutionary biomass-to-energy systems built and marketed by Air Burners.


Classroom Training: Staging and sorting the waste at the air curtain burner site
Stage your waste in a prudent way and sort your pile. The instructor will stress that some waste will burn well, some not so well, and things like palm fronds could be somewhat more difficult. Sort the incoming waste into a “Good Wood Pile” and a “Bad Wood Pile.” Mix good material with not so good and always have a great-burning pile of dry branches we call “fines” handy for “emergencies.” If you made a mistake, say you threw in a foreign object or let the fire burn down too low, quickly put some fines on top of your mistake. The instant heat from burning the fine branches tends to help get rid of the smoke caused by the area cooled down from your foreign object. The fines will also get you going again if your fire gets too low due to missed charging cycles.


Classroom Training: Starting the air curtain burner and the fire
The instructor will briefly discuss the Tier 4 engine controls which are electronic with a screen readout for engine condition and performance. He’ll stress that operators should refrain from trying to reprogram the electronic module, and if fault codes pop up, to call the factory for guidance.

Starting the fire itself is the real start-up topic. There are several ways the fire can be started and can depend in part of what local permit regulations dictate. If an accelerant is permitted, only diesel fuel must be used; never highly combustible liquids like gasoline. A propane weed burner is a good tool to have on hand. Make sure the nozzle of the chosen model will fit into the refractory panel lighting holes for FireBoxes. When working with trench burners, special caution must be exercised to prevent workers from falling into the pit. Never enter the trench for any reason whatsoever. A suitable weed burner can be purchased from Air Burners; it does not include the portable propane tank. Once the brush is burning, the operator increases the RPMs of the engine in preset steps being mindful not to blow the fire out. There will be smoke during this start-up phase, however, the air curtain burner regulations allow for that, as there is no way to start a fire from wood debris without any initial smoke.


Classroom Training: Help – it’s smoking – How to load and how not to
A common mistake that results in unacceptable smoke is overloading, even of the best wood debris. If you break the air curtain, the machine cannot do its job. This mistake is much too common, because people have the tendency to think more is better. People use huge buckets or rakes, often several cubic yards, and dump the wood waste all at once into the box. Too large a load may stick through and above the air curtain or smother the fire if it’s very low burning. Either way, smoke will be the result and that spells danger. When the machine smokes, money is wasted and the local permitting officials could shut down the operation or even levy hefty fines on the owners. The golden rule for loading is: “Load less more often”. Small loads along the length of the burn box are best. Start at one end and go load by load to the other and then start over again. 

In addition to using fine debris to build up heat to overcome a smoking FireBox, it may also be necessary to temporarily  back the air fan to a lower RPM setting on the control box. There is not too much that can be done to fix a FireBox that is overloaded, except letting it burn down. Pushing the overload down into the burn box with the excavator is not a good idea, as that can be harmful to the machine’s hydraulics.


Classroom Training: Shutting down the machine
Shutting the machine down at the end of the workday or for unforeseen events is discussed, emphasizing that, depending on permit or company directives, the fire must either be snuffed out or a bed of hot coals may be left in the bottom of the FireBox or burn pit. The hot glowing coals tend to self-insulate themselves from the ashes from their ongoing burning and usually do not tend to cause any smoke issues overnight, weather dependent. Having hot coals the next morning has the advantage of a “hot start.” The instructor will usually opt for a hot start in the hands-on field training the morning after a day’s burning. The operational step of residual ash cleanout is addressed, including the different methods and available implements that should be considered. The instructor will also explain that a portion of the residue consists of valuable biochar, a product sought after for its forestry and agriculture applications, and that steps to capture this product or optimize its production may be of interest to the site owners.


Classroom Training: Safety
The next topic is safety. When working with machinery and fire under any circumstance, safety is the number one priority. Safeguarding personnel, animals, structures and equipment in the yard and surrounding properties (which may include woodlands or neighboring structures) is essential. Fire suppression equipment must be on site and in certain situations, a functional water truck. The area immediately surrounding the FireBox or trench must be clean of burnable debris and vegetation, as embers do and will escape. A watchful eye must also be kept out for spot fires – say an ember setting a tiny patch of dry grass alight – so it can be snuffed out immediately. A loaded and burning FireBox or trench burner must never be left unsupervised. Only a wood waste pile large enough for a day’s burn should be staged within easy reach of the loader near the air curtain burner to reduce travel distance and wear and tear on the machine. The main pile must be a safe distance away. For emergencies which require extinguishing a fire abruptly, a dirt pile should be kept nearby. Dirt is the only way to kill the fire safely and swiftly; water from a firehose should not be used on a FireBox, as that could cause serious damage to the refractory walls.

From a viewpoint of personal safety, the operator learns what protective gear he or she should use, such as a Nomex jacket favored by firefighters or a breathing apparatus while working on ash cleanout. The instructor will impress upon his class that climbing onto a FireBox or using a ladder to climb up it is absolutely prohibited and a recipe for disaster. If you need to glance into the burning FireBox, step up on the built-in viewing ladder, hold on to the handle and climb no further than the top rung of the ladder. Never climb onto the roof of the equipment deck or the air fan.


Classroom Training: Maintenance and Routine Service
Maintenance and service of machinery will also be addressed. The diesel engine requires the same maintenance as any other industrial engine. As air curtain burners usually operate in dusty locations, meaning the cleaning and replacement of air filters as well as keeping radiators free of leaves and dirt is stressed. Daily inspections may be advisable. Periodic fluid changes and the importance of greasing and/or adjustments of clutches, couplings and air fan are explained. Current diesel-powered FireBoxes and pit burners are fitted with advanced computer-controlled US-EPA certified Tier 4 engines but they do not require the dreaded DEF service. The engine controls are all electronic and the display provides important engine parameter readouts and indicates the air fan speed setting in terms of engine RPMs.

Air Burners was first to affix QR Code decals to its machines a few years ago. Operators can use their smartphones to download the entire operating manual for their machines in addition to service guides that list part number and service intervals for serviceable parts, like filters and V-belts.


Classroom Training: Test and Certification
The client may request that the operating training session include an optional multiple-choice test upon completion of the training program. The test would be administered at the very end of the field training. Operators who have, in the judgment of our technical trainer, successfully finished the training program will be issued an attractive certificate suitable for framing and signed by the instructor.


Hands-on Field Training: First setup
The instructor will review the proper positioning of the FireBox or trench with respect to prevailing winds, verify the loading equipment and related implements such as rakes. He then will verify the suitability of the available wood waste for the practical teaching session. While the FireBox is still empty, he will assure that any gaps between the ground and refractory walls are sealed by shoveling dirt onto them. This will avoid the possibility of smoke escaping from any gaps that would be self-sealed by the ash bed built up.


Hands-on Field Training: Routine daily operation Day 1
All steps discussed in previous classroom sessions will now be followed starting with sorting the waste into good and bad wood piles, starting the fire and loading the FireBox. The startup period during which some smoke will be visible will be kept as short as possible; 10 to 20 minutes. This includes adjustments of air fan speed settings, which are fixed and programmed into the machine. The operator will be asked to overload the FireBox and shown how to remedy the smoke resulting from that error. Lessons learned for remedying the smoke from a very low fire will be put into practice, be it from the fire cooling down where foreign objects have been accidentally introduced or from a root ball with too much dirt or too many rocks embedded. 

Depending on the time of the end of the work shift at the site, loading will be ended. A decision will be made to either snuff out the fire or for the crew to stay at the site in order to let it burn down to the point where no visible smoke escapes with the air curtain shut off. Of course, weather conditions must allow for this. This procedure will help prepare for a hot start the next morning. 


Hands-on Field Training: Routine daily operation Day 2
The morning will start with cleaning the ash for either a cold or hot start. Biochar in the residue will be pointed out, as it has a beneficial value. An ash disposal plan should be in place for the training session wrap-up as the ash pile will be left near the machine.

In most cases, the air curtain burner operation will now shift into the production cycle and the operators will be left to do their assigned tasks.


Hands-on Field Training: Wrap-up
The trainer will confirm with the supervising office personnel on-site that the training session has been completed. The names of all attendees who successfully completed the course will be communicated to Air Burners and Training Certificates will be prepared and forwarded to the attendees.


Air Burners’ Customer Service Team is always available to work with clients on operational and technical issues that may arise in the future. Various support literature is downloadable free of charge from the Company Website at