By Gail Marsh
What is the word that brings fear and trepidation to RVers worldwide? FIRE. And no wonder! The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) reports that approximately 20,000 RV fires occur each year. The NFPA says that fire is one of the leading causes of RV loss in the United States. It can take less than 30 seconds for a fire to burn out of control. A midsize RV can burn to the ground within ten minutes. Those are some scary statistics! So what should RV owners do? First of all, be informed!
Before heading out
- Make sure your RV’s smoke detectors are in good, working order. Test them often and remember to replace the batteries.
- Check to see that all propane and carbon monoxide detectors are properly functioning.
- A minimum of three working fire extinguishers should be on board your rig: one in the galley, one in the bedroom, and one in an unlocked compartment outside of the RV. Know how to properly use a fire extinguisher. (Pull out the pin. Aim at the base of the fire. Squeeze the handle, then sweep the fire retardant back and forth across the base of the fire until it is out.) Hint: Consider packing a fire blanket in addition to the fire extinguishers. A fire blanket will quickly extinguish an incipient fire – one that is just beginning – by smothering it.
- Make sure every traveler knows where your rig’s emergency exits are located. Each person should also know how to open escape route doors and/or windows. Practice an escape with the members of your RV.
- Ensure that mechanical and electrical components are functioning properly. Leaky hoses can spill fluid on hot engine components and ignite. Loose electrical connections can cause heat or sparks that may lead to fire.
- Check to make sure no critters have made homes or nests inside your vents. Such blockages can cause component overheating which may lead to a fire.
- Do not travel with propane valves open. An accident or tire blowout that occurs when the propane is on will exacerbate the damage to your RV.
- Check your tires regularly. Incorrect tire pressure can cause tires to overheat, which may cause tire separation and blowouts.
- Be sure to follow all safety precautions when refueling.
- Use your onboard gauges and mirrors to watch for smoke coming from your tires or the RV itself.
- Stop immediately if you smell smoke or any unusual odor. Do not resume your travels until you’ve thoroughly checked out the cause of the smell.
Arrival and stay
- A catalytic converter or hot exhaust pipe can cause dry grass or other flammable surfaces to ignite under your RV. Carefully check before you park!
- During an extended stay, regularly check propane hoses. (Use dish soap to find hose leaks.)
- Cracked or brittle wires will often emit an odor before smoldering or bursting into flames. If you smell an unusual odor, turn off the electricity until you’ve identified and repaired the problem.
- Propane also has a unique odor. If you smell propane, immediately get out of the rig. If possible, turn off the propane and do not go back inside until the issue is resolved.
- Pay special attention when cooking, both inside and outside your RV. Never leave an operating cooktop or oven unattended. Keep combustible items well away from cooktops. Do not store items inside your RV oven. (More than one RV has burned to the ground because the owner stored paper products inside the oven and forgot they were there. When the oven was turned on, you can guess what happened.) Position your outside propane grill a safe distance away from your rig when in use. Keep a water bottle close by to dampen grill flareups.
In case of an RV fire emergency…
- Get everyone out and away from the RV immediately. “Stuff” can always be replaced – Lives cannot!
- Tell someone to call 911 or another local emergency number.
- Knock on your neighbors’ doors so they can move their RVs, or at least get themselves out of harm’s way. (Some folks are very sound sleepers and may not even notice the fire until it’s too late.)
- When using a fire extinguisher, always point towards the base of the fire, not at the rising flames. If you are unable to contain the fire using the extinguisher, go outside and wait for the professional firefighters to arrive.