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Posted on September 01, 2003 03:37
RV Fire Safety

Safety Training – Have a Plan

by:Bob (Ram) Muessig

A San Diego newspaper reported that two 11-year old boys had lost their lives in a fire…an RV fire.It was said that a blown tire was the possible causeSuch needless and horrible loss of life does not have to happen; it can be prevented.Our deepest, heartfelt sympathies and condolences go out to the devastated and grieving families of these two youngsters.

Safety regulations state that “EMERGENCY EXITS” must be a part of all RVs; one such escape route designed to be opposite the “door” or entrance to the RV, while the other route of escape must be in the “bedroom area”.Basically, what they’re saying is that occupants of an RV must have two ways out of every separate room.That’s all well and good…as far as it goes.The vehicle in question was a 24-foot motorhome, most likely a Class C, as the newspaper article said that the vehicle had an “overhead sleeping compartment”, where the boys attempted to escape the blaze which had started in the rear of the vehicle.

“(The owner and driver) discovered a fire in the rear of the 24-foot vehicle belonging to (X).(Mr. Y) quickly removed an oxygen tank that (X) used to relieve breathing problems, but as they tried to rescue the boys, flames quickly enveloped the motor home. 

"The boys had climbed in an overhead sleeping compartment to escape the fire which had blocked their exit. 

"Further rescue attempts by (Y & X), two Border Patrol agents, and a sheriff's deputy who had stopped at the scene, failed.” – Quoted from the San Diego Union-Tribune, Sunday, Sept. 5, 1999 - By Ernesto Portillo Jr.,STAFF WRITER

Fires can, indeed, escalate dangerously fast in the confines of an(y) RV and threaten life.Some of the reasons for this is the material(s) used in RV construction – wood, paper, plastic.These materials will burn and burn rapidly, reducing the average RV to smoldering ash on the frame in as little as 10 or 15 minutes. 

As a result, federal regulations state that RVs must have “emergency exits” installed.These exits are usually placed as follows:one in the bedroom area of a 5th wheel trailer, and one in the living area on the opposite wall as the entrance/exit door.Travel trailer requirements are much the same, as are motorhomes.The exceptions seem to be in trailers that have a second door, leading to the outside, in another bedroom.Generally speaking, you must have “two ways out of every room in the RV.”

How many of us truly understand where these emergency exits are and how they are to be used?If you’re like many Rvers, it may be said that you’ve never even tested these emergency exits.Most likely, you’ve never even given them a close inspection.If your sales person has explained and demonstrated these exits to you, consider yourself lucky.The exits are there, but folks don’t seem to give them much thought for “Surely, something like a fire is never going to happen to me.”But - what if it does?Would you or your children know exactly what to do?You should.Those emergencies don’t always happen to someone else. 

Yes, the emergency exits are there.Yes, they are safety devices.Yes, they are required by law.No, you’re not required to know how they work or how to use them.How sad.Whose fault is it when someone is killed in an RV because of a fire?The RV salesperson’s?Possibly, because he didn’t thoroughly explain the workings of the emergency exits and how they are to be used.Maybe the salesperson doesn’t even know!The manufacturer’s? Yes, to some degree, in that they build many of their RVs out of sub-standard construction materials.They are simply following federal guidelines and regulations by installing these exits in the first place.They’re not going to conduct seminars on their use unless, perhaps, the customer is buying direct from the factory.They, most likely, expect the dealerships to go through all that with their customers.The dealer’s?Again, possibly, but they’re interested in whether or not you’ll buy their product.They want their product to look its best and don’t want to scare away the customer by telling them all about the “emergency stuff”.One supposes that the responsibility is shared by all, including the customer. 

Sure, salesperson will give a customer a walk-through, and briefly explain what each item is and how it works.Sure…uh-huh.Five minutes to show you how to extend the awning and retract it to its travel position.Another five minutes, or less, is spent showing you how to turn on the propane, light the stove, water heater, and refrigerator.More time is spent showing you how to extend those slide-out rooms and getting you to notice how well appointed your selection is and what a great view you’ll have out of those big picture windows in that comfortable living room.Oh yes, and by the way, these windows have little red latches on them that you can release, allowing the window to fall out of the way while you jump through it to safety in the event of an emergency…a 20-second explanation of these safety devices and emergency exits.That made quite an impression, didn’t it?Twenty measly seconds was spent showing you how to save your life and those of your loved ones in the event of an emergency!And remember, once you’re off the sales lot, you’re on your own.They didn’t tell you everything?Did you ask? 

The point of all this is “People must educate themselves in order to be truly knowledgeable in regard to their particular RV.”You must read the “Owner’s Manual” and make note of the information therein.Create a checklist for yourself; list the items you need to take (not the stuff you want to take), the hitching and unhitching, the hooking up, the tow vehicle, the towed vehicle, the emergency equipment and where it’s located, the fuses, lighting, brakes, etc.Then USE IT, for it encompasses all aspects of RVing…including safety. 

Let’s go one step further.Make sure your children know about smoke alarms and what it means if it goes off.Educate them regarding propane and/or carbon monoxide alarms, too, making sure that they understand what they mean and what they must do to protect themselves.Teach them where the fire extinguishers are and how to use them correctly.Hold fire drills and make sure the young ones know where the emergency exits are and how to escape through them if need should arise.It only takes about 15 or 20 minutes for an RV to turn into a smoldering lump if a fire gets started, so be certain your children understand this.They MUST act quickly…very quickly.A fire won’t wait for them…or you, either, for that matter. 

The main thing is this:Get all living creatures to safety…FIRST and FOREMOST!Get everyone safely away…at a distance.Send someone to notify the neighbors, the fire and police agencies, if available, and the park managers, too.Then do what you can to put out the fire if possible.If you can’t, don’t worry about it.You’re still alive and so are your most precious loved ones.

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