Fire Safety - Part 1

From the Lily Pad
RV Lifestyle
My Prime Years
Our Journey

   by Donna B. Yeaw

No one likes to think about it ... until it hits close to home. It's easy to become complacent in our RV world. We get to travel when we want, met people we like and just enjoy life in general - free from the daily stress house-locked folks struggle with.

But there is one major life threatening calamity that can be much more devastating for RV owners ... Fire. Just take a look at some of these news stories:

We have been hitter closer to home than we would like. Upon returning to our summer campground in Altoona, PA this year, we were told what happened to the motorhome that had been beside us the year before. It burned to the ground in less than 10 minutes! This was less than a week after we moved ... it we had been there, our home would have been severely damaged by the heat and flames. It could have even been a total loss itself.

The fire happened after midnight and started in the rear, possibly from an electric blanket. Fortunately for the owner, he was still up front watching TV and he managed to get out without injury.

Mac McCoy, presenter of the Fire & Life Safety Seminar at the Fall Escapade, states that of the roughly 6,500 reported RV fires a year, 63% were in motorhomes, 1500 had damage over $10,000, and 28 people died. Most often these were transmission fires. He also estimated that the actual number of annual RV fires were closer to 10,000. The remaining 3,500 were unreported - typically due to insurance issues.

This article and the next will cover some of the basics of what every RVer needs to know about fire safety.

How do fires start?

Fire is a chemical reaction involving rapid oxidation or burning of a fuel. It needs three elements to occur:
  • FUEL - Fuel can be any combustible material - solid, liquid or gas. Most solids and liquids become a vapor or gas before they will burn.
  • OXYGEN - The air we breathe is about 21 percent oxygen. fire only needs an atmosphere with at least 16 percent oxygen.
  • HEAT - Heat is the energy necessary to increase the temperature of the fuel to a point where sufficient vapors are given off for ignition to occur.
  • CHEMICAL REACTION - A chemical chain reaction can occur when the three elements of fire are present in the proper conditions and proportions. This in turn starts a fire.

The key to remember here is that if you take any single element away, the fire cannot start or continue to burn.

What are the types/classes of fires?

Originally there were three classes of fires:
  • Class A - most burnable items such as wood, paper, cloth, etc. In fact this class encompasses any item that will turn into ash when burned.
  • Class B - All flammable and combustible gasses and liquids such as gasoline, kerosene, propane, diesel, cooking oils (except pure vegetable cooking oils), etc.
  • Class C - Energized electrical equipment (the key here is energized) such as wiring, fuses, breakers, inverters, converters, appliances, etc. (Note that when one of these items in not energized, it becomes a Class A burnable.)
  • Class D - Combustible metals such as magnesium, sodium, lithium, hafnium, powdered aluminum, etc.
  • Class K - pure vegetable oil

What are the types of fire extinguishers?

Fire extinguishers are rated according to the class and size of fire they can extinguish. Single class extinguishers are rated for one type of fire only. A Class B fire extinguisher is not rated to handle a Class A fire, for example. There are also multi-class or combination extinguishers. The most common are BC and ABC rated.
  • Dry Chemical (standard)- Class B and C extinguishers typically contain either sodium or potassium bicarbonate. These extinguishers leave a corrosive residue that needs to be cleaned up as soon as possible after the fire. (almost always red and lightweight)
  • Dry Chemical (multipurpose)- Type ABC fire extinguishers contain ammonium phosphate and are the most versatile type. Again, these are highly corrosive agents and leave a sticky residue. (almost always red and lightweight)
  • CO2 - Class B and C extinguishers can also be CO2 extinguishers. They are particularly good for electrical fires since they leave no harmful residue behind and won't damage electronics. One disadvantage is the fact that they are short range - they must be applied very close to the fire. (generally red and very heavy)
  • Halon - Useful for all Class A, B. & C fires, halon leaves no residue so it's good for use where there is valuable electronic equipment (such as computers). Unfortunately, it has been shown to be harmful to the environment and will be unavailable shortly. It also works by removing the oxygen in the area, not real good for anyone fighting the fire!
  • Water - For use on Class A fires only. Obviously inexpensive and effective but works better when applied under pressure in an extinguisher. (large containers, often silver colored, can be quite heavy)
  • Metal/Sand - Class D extinguishers contain metal or sand and work by smothering the fire.

How are fire extinguishers rated?

When purchasing a fire extinguisher you need to not only know what classes of fires it can be used on, but also the size of the fire the extinguisher is rated to handle. The ratings on a fire extinguisher will give you this information.

A numerical rating is a guide to the amount of fire the extinguisher will handle. Extinguishers which can handle several types of fires have combined ratings such as 2A:10BC. What does this mean?

A rating of 2A-10BC tells us that this extinguisher would be good for a class A fires of 10 square meters (1A = 5 sq meters) or a class BC fire for 2.5 square meters of burning (1BC = 1/4 sq meters).

How do I use a fire extinguisher?

The simplest way of remembering how to use a fire extinguisher is to memorize the word PASS
Pull the Pin
Aim at the Base of the Fire
Squeeze the Lever
Sweep from Side to Side

Join us next time as we discuss

  • What should you do if there is a fire?
  • Where should you have your fire extinguishers?
  • How do I care for my fire extinguisher?
... and more!

In the meantime, keep on rolling!

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