Fire in an RV is a terrifying thought!
Often these are transmission fires. It is stressed that you should have a transmission heat indicator installed in your rig. Thirty-five percent of RV fires are caused by 12 volt shorts.
Check your extinguishers. Just because the needle shows in the green does not mean the fire extinguisher will work. To check a category BC dry powder type extinguisher, (the sort used for flammable or combustible liquids and energized electrical fires), turn the extinguisher upside down and tap on the bottom. It should sound drum-like. If not, the powder has settled. Tap it until it sounds hollow and then gently drop it from a height of a few inches. It should bounce slightly.
A smoke detector is the most important device you can have in your rig. Make sure it is a UL 217 integral battery-operated detector. Carbon Monoxide and LPG gas detectors are also essential. The LPG detector should be on the wall as close to the floor as possible in the kitchen area. The carbon monoxide detector should be 4 feet above the floor, since this type of gas is lighter than oxygen and "floats". It should be in the bedroom area, close to the roof. Since carbon monoxide could enter your coach from a neighbor’s generator, install another detector in the living room area at mid-height. Make sure all detectors are approved for use in RVs.
You may have a problem with the smoke detector goes off when the toaster is used. Several ideas have been offered to cure this annoying problem. Move the kitchen smoke detector to the driver's compartment. Or -- put a shower cap or baggie over the detector when cooking. Just remember to remove it when the meal is finished! Or -- get a detector with a hush button, push the button and the detector will stop for 15 minutes -- then "chirp" to signal it's back on duty.
The National Fire Protection Agency ("NFPA") mandates the rules for fire extinguishers and escape hatches for RVs. These rules require a 5 pound "BC" rated fire extinguisher near each exit. Know how to use it! A fire usually starts at the front of the rig and moves to the rear. Motorhome fires in a rig are usually type A type fires -- common combustibles -- wood, paper etc. , and the only required extinguishers on board frequently are BC types ( for flammable liquids and gasses or electrical equipment). Type A type fire extinguishers belong inside the coach and the BC type belongs under it -- in one of the compartments. You should have 5 extinguishers -- one for the drivers compartment, one for the kitchen, one for the bedroom, one under the coach in a storage compartment and one in your towed vehicle.
Have a plan in case of fire. Find your escape windows. Unless they are the type which have a "string" around them, open them and practice getting out. This is much easier to do when you are not in a panic situation. If you cannot put out a fire in the first 30-45 seconds, get away from the fire, leave it to the fire department.
Teach your guests, especially young ones, how to open the door of your rig. Many models work differently, and escaping from a fire is not the time to be learning how to use the door latch.
Before operating your stove or oven, open a window and the overhead venting on an exhaust fan. If you smell gas, extinguish all open flames (pilot lights, lamps, smoking materials, etc.), shut off the gas supply, open doors and leave the unit until the odor is gone. Have the system checked before you use it again.
Make sure that any after-market product you get for your rig has been approved by RVIA. Many items, such as under cabinet mounted toasters, etc. are fine for a house, but the RV is subject to a great deal of shaking as it goes down the road. Home implements may not be able to stand up to this stress. Use stainless steel not aluminum cookware. Aluminum will melt and then burn.
Refrigerators do not need to run while you drive. Most will keep food cold or frozen for eight hours. Driving with propane on can add to the danger is you are involved in an accident or have a fire. If you will be driving 6 - 8 hours in a day, turn the refrigerator up to its highest setting the night before you leave, and then turn it off when you begin your next day's travels. You can purchase devices that will circulate cool air through the refrigerator while you are traveling.
When you stop at a rest stop along the highway, open the hood of your car or RV to let the engine cool.
If you smell ammonia in your refrigerator, replace the unit. It is cooled by ammonia and hydrogen. If something, a bird or insect nest, etc. is blocking the vent, an explosion can easily occur. Therefore, after your rig has been stored for a period of time, check it thoroughly.
Do not use cooking appliances for heating. Unlike homes, oxygen supply is limited due to the size of the RV. Cooking appliances need fresh air for safe operation, and the danger of asphyxiation is great -- greater when the appliance is used for a long time. Always cook with a range vent or nearby window open. Catalytic heaters should be vented; RVIA technicians are not allowed to install non-vented heaters.
Repair engine or transmission oil leaks as soon as possible. Automatic transmission fluid will ignite easily and burn very quickly. It can also ignite when it comes in contact with the exhaust system. A hard-working engine manifold can get as hot as 900 degrees, and with the heavy insulation in the compartment the heat is reflected back to the top of the engine.
In order to extinguish an engine fire, you will have to get to the top of the engine. If necessary, have something to punch holes in the hood (of the RV or tow vehicle) so that the extinguisher can get to the source of the blaze. Attack the fire from the outside. Carry a fire extinguisher in your towed vehicle. Inspect your engine compartment frequently, and keep it clean. Check your hydraulic hoses for cracks or leaks.
Class C fires -- energized electrical, 110, 120, or 240 volts. Only 8% of these are successfully put out. Cut the fire off from its source -- i.e. unplug whatever is afire, and the fire becomes a class A fire. Class D fires -- exotic flammable metals; there is only a 1% success rate here. If you should have a fire while plugged in to shore power, be sure to unplug immediately to cut the current from the fire. If boondocking, turn off the generator or inverter.
The RV extinguishers furnished with new units are usually not rated for class A fires. Dry powder extinguishers are corrosive when they touch parts of the unit not burning. In addition, the area covered by this type of fire extinguisher may not be enough to put out the fire. Halon extinguishers were outlawed by the Montreal Protocols: they are hazardous to the ozone layer. They are also possibly carcinogenic. A CO2 extinguisher is hazardous, and of no use in the wind. It is also very heavy.
Caution! ALWAYS turn off the propane when you are having your tanks filled. Often the propane dealer will vent his hose under your rig before he starts the filling process. Should your refrigerator choose that particular moment to turn on, there could easily be a fire.
Be aware that the most important thing is the safety of the occupants. If you cannot extinguish the fire don't let it extinguish you.
A big "thank you" to RVers Online for this insightful article - we hope you find it as helpful as we did!