Courtesy of Mac “The Fire Guy” McCoy
Most people killed by fires are actually overcome in their sleep from gas, lack of oxygen, hot air, and smoke, or wake up too late or confused to escape. Flames are last on the list of killers. That’s why your best defense from a fire is properly installed and maintained smoke, LPG, and carbon monoxide detectors. Test your detectors weekly to be sure the batteries have enough power and the detectors are in working condition.
Recognizing the signals from each type of detector is important because different reactions are required for each type of alarm. With smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, stay low when they sound. LPG gas gathers low, so the best action is standing upright when you hear the LPG detector. An easy way to remember what to do is to observe the placement of the detectors. If they’re placed high, then you should stay low, and vice versa. Weekly testing will also help you become very familiar with the varying sounds of each so you’ll know how to respond.
The more “automatic” your response is to a fire alarm in your coach, the better. To help make your response more automatic, establish a fire escape plan and have fire drills regularly. The first step to developing an effective fire plan is to make sure everyone is familiar with 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.
Your next step is to determine where you and your passengers would meet if a fire occurred. A preset meeting place at each destination will help to quickly determine if everyone has safely exited the coach.
During discussion of the meeting place, be sure everyone knows if the coach is on fire, they should get out fast. Re-emphasize to everyone aboard that objects can be replaced, people can’t. Never stay behind or re-enter a burning RV to retrieve something. Immediately leave through the nearest escape hatch.
To begin your fire drill, start with everyone seated with seat belts on. From this position, discuss the different ways you could exit the coach without using the main entrance door. Next have everyone get into their sleeping quarters. Sound the “alarm” using the test button on a detector, a safety whistle or a shout.
For your fire drill, start by rolling out of bed and crawling low on the floor where the air is clearer. Proceed immediately to your pre-determined safe meeting place and make sure no one is missing. If you are worried about a pet, know your animal’s instinct will be to escape the fire. Although it may seem callous to think through how you’d react if your pet were trapped inside your burning coach, make a decision now whether your pet’s life is worth risking your own.
Your motor coach fire escape plan should incorporate the needs of all the occupants, including those with mobility issues. Remove any barriers that might hinder a disabled person and install extra handles on window escape hatches. Also arrange for a family member to assist those who may need help, and have disabled or elderly people sleep close to a safe exit.
You may also need to tailor your plan to accommodate a visually or hearing-impaired person. A whistle can aid a visually impaired person who needs to signal for help during an evacuation. Alarms that sound intermittently allow for an exchange of emergency information otherwise masked by the noise of a constant alarm. Continuously sounding alarms can disorient people who are auditory-dependent. Visual signaling systems are available for those who can’t hear smoke alarms. Posting emergency information on your coach’s windows can alert rescuers to the fact there’s a person with special needs inside.
It’s also a good idea to make sure visitors can open the front door. Not all manufacturers use the same lock and latch assembly. You’ll also want to make sure your travel companions know 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.
Your success in a fire will have a lot to do with three main factors: recognizing hazards and taking adequate preventive measures, acting intelligently at the outbreak of the fire, and taking action to limit damage. Even when you’re prepared for a motor coach fire, it’s still shocking, scary and traumatic to experience. Give yourself an edge in preventing and dealing with a fire by being prepared.
Hopefully, you’ll never have to put your fire plan into action. However, if you do, remember to keep calm and to get out of your coach like you practiced during fire drills. Stay focused on your prime objective—getting yourself and your passengers out of the RV safely.
Editor’s note: Choose from a wide selection of fire extinguishers at Amazon. Here are links from Amazon.com for smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, LP gas detectors, and combination smoke and CO detectors.