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RV gadget: The Element Fire Extinguisher

Your RV’s fire extinguisher might not function. At all. At best, the fire extinguisher that came with your RV may create a path to the doorway if there’s a fire inside, but many RV fire extinguishers are at the doorway. 

You may find yourself running through fire just to pass the fire extinguisher mounted by the door. I have often criticized many Class A motorhomes for having poor fire escapes, but almost all RVs have lousy fire extinguishers. 

I was recently made more aware of the situation with RV fire extinguishers after my friends from Airstream Life sent me an Element Fire Extinguisher. Rich and Cheryl are people I’ve met at several rallies and events and they knew I would be intrigued by this. I am. 

Being the geek that I am, I wanted to know more about this product so I arranged to talk to Rob Calisi, who works as the importer of these to the US. The Element is a product that was designed in Italy as something for soldiers to use to put out fires. 

Unlike any fire extinguisher that you’ll find in an RV, this one does not have an expiration date. That’s because it works much differently than the fire extinguisher that came with your RV. 

How fire extinguishers work

The fire extinguishers that most of us have seen work by having a substance inside them that is propelled outward when we release it. The idea is to shoot this stuff at the base of the fire to, essentially, suffocate it. 

What happens is that you create a big white mess when you do this, although that’s certainly better than your RV burning down. If you’re able to stop the fire. 

Most of us haven’t ever used a fire extinguisher, so Calisi stated that many people spend the first few moments in a panic and waste a portion of the contents of the fire extinguisher. Clearly you’re in a situation that is stressful. 

The contents inside a traditional fire extinguisher are rated for what they’re intended to extinguish. There’s a guide at the end of this article, but many RVs I’ve seen have the white extinguisher which is rated to tackle A, B and C fire designations. 

What happens to RV fire extinguishers 

I had written that your fire extinguisher might not work. This is true even if the dial on the extinguisher shows that it’s okay. 

Over time, for example, the shaking and jarring that your RV experiences can compress the material in the fire extinguisher. Think of how compacted some of your spices are. Same situation. 

Another thing Calisi said is that condensation can occur inside the fire extinguisher which acts to turn the powder in the extinguisher into something like concrete. There may be pressure still in the extinguisher, but it can’t distribute the now-hardened material. 

Another thing—the traditional fire extinguisher only has about 9-11 seconds of discharge capability. That’s not long. 

How the Element works

The Element fire extinguisher works by your activating a process that chemically disrupts the oxygen that a flame needs. Because of the way the process works, it doesn’t create a mess and can work on all types of fires. 

It also doesn’t take oxygen out of the equation, so it’s safe to breathe, according to the company. It’s also non-toxic. 

I did not light my Element Fire Extinguisher to try it out, first of all. But I did watch a bunch of videos and I can liken the action to something like a flare. In fact, it looks a lot like a flare. It even functions much like one where you take the cap off, strike the surface and enable the chemical reaction. 

I also like how small this device is. We have one mounted near our bed and will actually put one in our truck (we’ve ordered it; it hasn’t arrived yet). 

Like a flare, it keeps going. My wife had the idea of taking one of these and lobbing it into an engine compartment or baggage compartment if it happened to catch fire. I laughed. Calisi thought it was a great idea. 

Shows you what I know. 

There are also very explicit pictograms on the side of the unit. They’re large enough that even I can follow them without glasses on. That’s important in the middle of the night. 

What do the fire extinguisher letters mean

The letters on a fire extinguisher directly correlate with the type of fire it’s designed to tackle.

Class A: The fire you’re most likely to encounter. Class A means common combustibles like paper, plastic, wood, cloth, etc., are fueling the fire. Classic Class A fire extinguishers use simple pressurized water to suppress these simple fires, although most fire extinguishers capable of dealing with a Class A are multi-class and can extinguish multiple kinds of fire.

Class B: While water is effective at fighting many types of fires, Class B fires require something a little different. When a fire is driven by flammable liquids like petroleum oil, gasoline, paint, and gases such as butane and propane, water is both useless and dangerous. Spraying water on one of these can cause it to rapidly spread and increase damage.

Class B fire extinguishers are often foam based, using the foam to smother the fire by taking away the oxygen.

Class C: These fires are caused by electricity and electrical equipment and also require a distinct extinguisher. Fires are only considered class C if electricity is still actively flowing to the item that is on fire. Once it’s shut off, the fire ceases to be considered a Class C.

The most common type of extinguisher, a dry chemical-based one, is ideal for fighting electrical fires. It’s even effective on A and B fires, although much more so on B and C than on A.

Class D: Some fires require extremely specific care, and among these are Class D fires which are caused by combustible metals like magnesium. While you probably won’t face this in your home or office, Class D fires are a hazard faced by workers in labs and manufacturing plants.

Average fire extinguishers will have no effect on Class D fires. To properly be extinguished, they use a dry powder-based extinguisher to put out the flames. This powder is perfectly suited for metal fires but is not effective against conventional combustibles.

Class K: You might know Class K fires simply as “grease fires.” They’re caused when oils and fats used in cooking are set alight and require special care when extinguishing. Water will make this type of fire far worse, and some extinguisher residue can damage cooking equipment. Class K extinguishers are meant to be easy to clean up after and are effective against grease fires.

RV fires in summary

If you haven’t yet, watch Marc and Julie Bennett’s video about how quickly an RV fire can spread. It’s really eye-opening. 

I also like this Element fire extinguisher. If nothing else, it is small enough to be mounted conveniently and may help you get out in a fire. 

Another product I am a huge advocate of is the ProTeng® fire suppression system. This is a system that requires no intervention by the user to put out a fire and is permanently mounted in engine bays and behind RV refrigerators. 

I’m a bit of a nut regarding fire as I have a number of friends who are firefighters. After a few beers, I hear stories. None of them are pretty. 

So I hope whatever you do helps you stay safe and, if you want to see the Element Fire Extinguishers, I’ll be at the FROG rally and then the FMCA convention. We won’t light the extinguisher but I will show it to you. How’s that? 

##GRVA10

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Ran
1 month ago

I’m questioning the Element fire extinguisher. Is it legal in the U.S.? does it have the required UL approval, FM approval and US tested ratings?! Just my experience and a question to the curious.

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