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RV Fire safety is a key element of RV Safety. Most RVs come with at least one fire extinguisher, usually of the powder type. This type of extinguisher has a pressure gauge with a red/green indicator. While the gauge may read green, the unit might not function correctly after sitting in one position for a long time as the powder settles and clumps in the bottom of the extinguisher. Pick this type unit up and turn it upside down several times every six months or so to loosen the powder. This is also a good time to check that the gauge is in the green area.
Kathy and I have been to a number of RV fire safety seminars, including some with live fires to put out. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of this vital safety training. It is available at most large rallies. Check out http://macthefireguy.com/ for information on the location and times for this training.
Here are 34 tips on RV fire safety from Mac McCoy (aka Mac the Fire Guy) that can save your life. These are reprinted with permission from Mac McCoy
1. A pinhole-size leak in a radiator or heater hose can spray antifreeze on hot engine parts. Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol concentrate and water. When the water boils off, the remaining ethylene glycol can self-ignite at 782 degrees F. During your monthly fire inspection, check all hoses for firmness, clamp tightness, and signs of leaking.
2. Rubber fuel lines are commonly used to connect metal lines to the electronic fuel injection system, or to the carburetor in older coaches. Check all the lines and connections between the fuel tank and the engine on a monthly basis. If there is any sign of a leak, have the lines replaced and the entire system inspected by a qualified mechanic as soon as possible.
3. A hard-working engine manifold can get as hot as 900 degrees F. The heavy insulation in the compartment reflects the heat back to the top of the engine, and a fire can easily break out. Inspect your radiator and have any problems repaired by a qualified person as soon as possible.
4. Grease, oil, and road dust build up on the engine and transmission, making them run hotter. The grime itself usually doesn’t burn, but if combined with a fuel leak or short-circuited wire, a fire could start. Keep your coach’s underpinnings clean, and it will run cooler, more economically, and longer.
5. A dragging brake can create enough friction to ignite a tire or brake fluid. Some of the worst fires are those caused when one tire of a dual or tandem pair goes flat, scuffs, and ignites long before the driver feels any change in handling. At each stop, give tires at least an eyeball check. When tires are cool, tap your duals with a club and listen for a difference in sound from one tire to the next. You can often tell if one is going soft.
6. Spontaneous combustion can occur in damp charcoal. Buy charcoal fresh, keep it dry, and store it in a covered metal container. Rags soiled with auto wax or cleaners that contain petroleum products or other oil-based cleaning materials can also spontaneously combust if disposed of in a combustible container. Put dirty cleaning rags in a metal container with a lid.
7. A hot exhaust pipe or catalytic converter can ignite dry grass.
8. Driving with propane on can add to the danger if you are involved in an accident or have a fire. Most refrigerators will keep food cold or frozen for eight hours without running while you travel. Shut the propane off at the tank.
9. If you store your coach, be sure to check the flue before starting your refrigerator on propane. Birds and inspects can build nests and clog the flue, causing a fire or excess carbon monoxide to enter your coach.
10. Batteries produce explosive gases. Keep flame, cigarettes, and sparks away. Be sure your battery compartment is properly vented. Keep vent caps tight and level. Check your battery monthly. Replace swollen batteries immediately. Use extreme care when handling batteries—they can explode.
11. Have any wiring in your coach done by a capable electrician, and use common sense in using any electrical aid. Check all 12-volt connections before and after every trip. Most coach fires are caused by a 12-volt short.
12. Gasoline and propane can pose an immediate, explosive danger. Though diesel fuel is less volatile, it dissipates more slowly, so it remains a danger longer. Deal at once with any leaks or spills, and use all fuels in adequately vented areas.
13. Even if the flame on your galley stove goes out, gas continues to flow and could result in an explosion. A stove should never be left unattended or used to heat your coach. Open propane flames release high levels of carbon monoxide.
14. In a compact galley, all combustibles—from paper towels to curtains—are apt to be closer to the stove, so use even more caution in your coach than you do at home. A box of baking soda—the ingredient in powder extinguishers—can be used in lieu of a fire extinguisher for minor galley flare-ups.
15. Develop a plan of action before a fire occurs.
16. Make sure all travelers know what the smoke alarm sounds like and what to do when they hear it. Test your smoke detector regularly.
17. Have at least two escape routes—one in the front and one in the rear of the coach. As soon as they’re old enough, teach children to open hatches and emergency exits.
18. Review with everyone the “Stop, Drop, and Roll” rule so they know what to do when clothing is on fire.
19. Make sure visitors can open the front door. Not all manufacturers use the same lock and latch assembly.
20. Choose a rallying point where everyone will meet immediately after escaping, so everyone can be accounted for.
21. Show travelers how to unhook electricity (screw-on cords can be tricky) and how to close propane valves, in case either of these measures is called for.
22. Practice unhooking your tow vehicle as quickly as possible to avoid spreading the fire to other vehicles.
23. Re-emphasize to everyone aboard that objects can be replaced, people can’t. Never stay behind or re-enter a burning coach to retrieve anything.
24. There are plenty of fire and life safety tools that can save lives, but for them to be effective, they must be in working condition and you must know how to use them properly.
25. You should have three fire extinguishers for your coach—one in the galley, one in the bedroom, and one outside of the coach in an unlocked compartment or in your tow vehicle. Make sure family members know how to use the extinguishers and understand which extinguishers are effective on various fires.
26. During your monthly inspection, check the fire extinguisher gauge to determine if there is pressure in the extinguisher. If the gauge indicates empty or needs charging, replace or recharge the extinguisher immediately. To test non-gauged extinguishers, push the plunger indicator (usually green or black) down. If it does not come back up, the extinguisher has no pressure to expel its contents. If you need help testing your fire extinguishers, check with your local fire department.
27. Do not pull the pin and expel the contents to test your powder extinguisher. If you use a portion of the powder extinguisher, have it refilled or replaced immediately. When you have a fire extinguisher refilled, ask to shoot off the charge first (most refill stations have a special place where this can be done safely). This lets you see how far it shoots and how long a charge lasts.
28. Invert and shake your dry-powder or dry-chemical extinguisher monthly to loosen the powder. The jarring of the coach does not loosen the powder; in fact, it packs the powder, which may make your extinguisher ineffective.
29. Deadly, invisible, odorless CO usually results from exhaust leaks or misuse of heating devices. Be sure to put your CO detector in the bedroom. The proper location is on the ceiling or on an inside wall at least eight inches from the ceiling and at least four feet from the floor.
30. Liquid petroleum gas, like gasoline fumes, tends to pool in low spots in the coach until a spark sets it off. Newer motorhomes are equipped with an automatic shut-off for when its sensor detects an LPG leak. If you have a leak, be sure to shut the propane off at the tank.
31. The first rule of RV firefighting is to save lives first and property second. Get yourself and your family to safety before attempting to extinguish a fire. Only if you can do so without endangering yourself or others should you use firefighting aids on hand.
32. Get help. Adults and older children should know how to dial 911 or 0, and how to get emergency help on any CB, VHF, or ham radio available.
33. It’s crucial to know your location so firefighters can find you.
34. If you have a quick-disconnect fitting on your water hookup, these hoses can be unhooked instantly to fight a fire. If a nearby coach is burning and you cannot move your coach but can safely stay close enough to keep it hosed down, you may be able to save it.
We were given advice to have a number of extinguishers on hand. This is another key element of RV fire Safety. You should have one for your car or truck, one for an outside compartment, one in the bedroom, and one near the kitchen area. These small extinguishers will not put out an RV fire that has been going for more than a couple of minutes. You have them to beat down the flames so you can get out of your rig. Even the largest RV can be reduced to a pile of smoldering ashes in five or six minutes. There are many videos on the internet showing this. For that reason, you must get out quickly. Your “stuff” isn’t worth your life or your family’s life. These four extra fire extinguishers can be purchased for as little as sixty or seventy dollars.
There are automatic temperature activated units for the both engine and the generator compartments. These use a gas such as Halon to displace the oxygen and extinguish the fire. There is also a Halon unit available for the refrigerator compartment to combat refrigerator fires. These units are expensive, but they provide peace of mind as part of your RV Safety plan.
Every RV is required by law to have at least one emergency exit besides the entry door. It is usually a bedroom window with a hinge on top so the window can be tilted out to allow escape. Check and exercise this emergency exit at least twice a year. Put gasket lube on the gasket to keep it soft and pliable so it will be easy to open when needed. A short stick the size of a broom handle cut to around 18 inches long is a great tool to keep the often heavy window open when using it as an exit. Paint it fluorescent orange and place it where it will be available in case of emergency. Some rigs have breakaway windows. Make sure you know which type you have. In either case, the window edge is usually thin and painful as your body goes over it. There will also be a drop from the window to the ground several feet below. For these reasons, drag your bedding out the window with you to be a cushion over the window edge.
You might consider putting a smaller version of your severe weather "Go Bag" near the emergency exit to take out the window with you.
You and all the folks traveling with you should practice RV fire safety by doing a fire drill every year. You need to find all the fire extinguishers, and at least simulate going out the emergency exit. Just remember that the fire extinguishers are to beat the fire back so you can get out quickly, not to put out the fire.
Certainly, a key element of RV Safety is early detection. If your rig has a fire alarm, or smoke detector, test it for proper operation and change the battery at least annually. If not, go out and get one immediately. We have found that the alarm is usually placed outside the bedroom and near the gas range. Consequently, it will go off every time you fry bacon. We switched ours to a unit made by Kidde that has a push button switch that turns the alarm off for ten minutes, and then automatically returns the unit to normal operation. We highly recommend it. There is no reason not to install additional smoke detectors in the bedroom and up front in your rig.