RV Fire Safety

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January 2, 2008

RV Fire Safety

This post is all about RV fire safety! It’s an area we don’t think about, or discuss very often, but one that deserves serious attention. Did you know that on average there are 12,000 reported RV fires each year? Do you know what to do in the event of a fire in or around your RV? If you said no don’t feel bad, because there are a lot of other people who don’t know either. Let’s take a look at some important RV safety issues.

A large percentage of RV fires are transmission related fires on motor homes. Automatic transmission fluid leaking from the transmission can ignite, and quickly spread if it contacts any hot portion of the exhaust system. Before traveling in your RV or tow vehicle inspect the underside for any signs of fluid leaking. Have any potential leaks checked out and repaired immediately.

Not only do you need a fire extinguisher, but you need to inspect it before each trip to make sure it is charged and in proper operating condition. Look to see if the arrow is pointing in the green area in the sight gauge. If it reads empty or needs charging replace it or have it recharged immediately. If it’s a dry powder type fire extinguisher the arrow pointing in the green doesn’t always guarantee that it will work. Every month you should turn dry powder extinguishers upside down, tap on the bottom of the extinguisher and shake it so the powder that settled on the bottom is released.

There are four different types, or classes of fire extinguishers, A, B, C, and D, and each type is for a specific type of fire.

Class A extinguishers are used for fires caused by ordinary combustibles like paper and wood.

Class B extinguishers are used for fires caused by flammable liquids like grease, gasoline and oil.

Class C extinguishers are used for fires caused by electrical equipment.

Class D extinguishers are used for fires on flammable metals and often they are specific for the type of metal it is.

Some fire extinguishers have multi class ratings like, AB, BC or ABC which means one fire extinguisher can be used to put out different types of fires. The National Fire Protection Agency rules that RV’s must have a “BC” rated fire extinguisher near the exit. “BC” rated fire extinguishers are used for flammable liquids and gasses like grease, gasoline and oil, and for electrical fires. In my opinion you need more than one fire extinguisher for your RV.

In addition to the fire extinguisher inside the RV it’s a good idea to keep an ABC type fire extinguisher in an outside storage compartment where it is easily accessible. If you tow a trailer keep an, ABC type fire extinguisher in the tow vehicle too.

Having these fire extinguishers available is a great idea but they are worthless if you and the other people traveling in the RV don’t know what type of fire they are used for and how to properly use them. Get everybody who is capable of using an extinguisher together and make sure they understand the different types of fire extinguishers you have and where they are located in the event of an emergency.

The old style labeling for fire extinguishers, to designate what type of fire they are used for, was with the letter A, B, C or D

Newer style labeling for fire extinguishers includes a picture designating the type of fire it is used for. If it can be used for multiple types of fires it will show the pictures for the types of fires it can be used for and it will have a red diagonal line through the picture of what it cannot be used for.

Once everybody understands the different types of fire extinguishers the next step is to teach everybody how to properly use a fire extinguisher. There are many different types and sizes of fire extinguishers, but for the most part they all work the same way. Teach everybody to remember the word PASS. This is an easy way to remember how to use a fire extinguisher, especially during an emergency.

PASS stands for Pull, Aim, Squeeze and Sweep.

Pull the pin located at the top of the fire extinguisher.

Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire.

Squeeze the handle, standing approximately 8 feet away from the fire. Release the handle if you want it to stop.

Sweep the nozzle back and forth at the base of the fire until it is out. Observe the fire to make sure it does not re-ignite.

Last but certainly not least you need to have an emergency escape plan. The National Fire Protection agency requires that RV’s have emergency escape windows. Make sure everybody knows where the escape window is located and how to use it. It’s a good idea to practice using it so you are familiar with how to get out of the RV in case of an emergency. You should have an escape plan for the front of the RV and the rear of the RV.

Most important, do not risk your personal safety, or the safety of others, attempting to put a fire out. The first step is to get everybody out of the RV and away from the fire safely. Have somebody call 911 for help, and if you can’t extinguish the fire within the first minute or so let the professionals put it out.

Happy Camping,

Mark J. Polk

RV Education 101

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  321. fire safety is serious stuff.
    All rvs should come with an extinguisher, and a detector.
    Looking at your other post with the RV on fire, you can see that is some super hot flames. So you know that thing went up fast.
    My advice, for every adult in your RV, you need one extinguisher for every 15 feet of length.

  322. John, enjoyed your post on fire extinguishers. I have a couple of things for you to think about and let me know. What fire extinguisher will extinguish a Class C fire? What does the C mean on a BC or ABC fire extinguisher? As a fire officer what did you use on a Class A or B fire or burning RV? It has been my experience that ABC or BC extinguishers have limited success with a burning RV. My advice has always been get out and get away. If you have to fight your way out, you might want to re-think what you have. One other thing, if you don’t know how to use the thing no matter what you have it probably won’t work properly.

  323. John

    In regards to the many different types of fire extinguishers, unless your are a fireman or retired one, knowing which unit to use is very difficult. I personally would only use and buy ABC units. In case of a fire in your rv, you don’t have the time to decide if the unit you have will do the job. The ABC does it all, plain and simple. My personal feeling is that they shouldn’t even make the A or AB etc. Why not just build a good one that does it all. There is always to many options to choose from on anything you buy. Simple would be easy and great all at one time.

  324. labordave

    Thanks Again, 2007 beaver contessa, Cat 400, you can e mail me at [email protected]

  325. labordave, each extinguisher is set at 175 psi, with a defuser head that alows the coldfire to be shot 10′ in all directions. The heads are set at 286 degrees so it lessons the chance of false alarms. The 1L is 12″ by 2.5 “, the 2L is 16″x4″ the 3L is 18″x4″ and the 4L is 20″ x 5”. The location is to be on the passenger side of the engine about mid-ships of the engine. Each brand of coach can have different situations that require different types of installs. If I knew what brand of coach you have I can be more helpful. Coldfire is a foaming wetting agent not FOAM. If you need more information on the difference between FOAM and Wetting Agent please visit my website at macthefireguy.com
    I hope this helps

  326. labordave

    Thanks — Could you give me sizes of the 1,2,3,4 liter sizes and the approximate area 1 liter covers? It would be great if would list the dimensions for all your extinguishers as many of us only limited space to install them. I assume they are all foam.

  327. It’s Macthefireguy, my computer has been down for 6 weeks and I just got it back. Gypsy John, yes we have a unit for your 02 Foretravel. Labordave and yes to your question we have a unit that is automatic , no maintenance and is way under $2700.00. Please go to macthefireguy.com and see if there is anything there you like.

    P.S. you can contact me at [email protected]

  328. labordave

    Does anyone know of a good system to use in the engine compartment of a diesel pusher that will go off automatically when a preset temp is reached and doesn’t cost $2,700.00??

  329. Gypsy John (Christman)

    Requirements? That requirement is about as useful as trying to put out a forest fire with glass of water. As for having an engine fire extinguisher–I’m one of those “RARE” ones that does have one. My only question MAC is, have they come out with one that can fit inside a 2002 Foretravel compartment that isn’t dry powder? I’ve liked having the peace of mind owning the dry powder one you sold me back in 2002, but really would like to have an automatic that was a little less “maintenance” intensive.

    “Gypsy” John

  330. grumpyfyre

    All sorts of good info going back and forth here. But, to get back to the question “What is required?”

    NFPA 1192 requires that:

    every motorhome has a portable extinguisher of at least 10-B:C rating according to NFPA 10.


    every towable has a portable extinguisher of at least 5-B:C rating according to NFPA 10.

    Not every extinguisher for sale out there meets these requirements.


  331. steelpony, you might (if you haven’t already) check some of the RV Insurance companies on Full Replacement insurance or agreed value. I to have stuff that I really don’t want to loose too a fire. The MH is insured for full replacement, or agreed value, its the stuff I don’t want to loose. That is one reason I have an auto unit in the engine bay and one in the generator bay. I even have a unit in my van cargo bay to cover my stuff I haul in the van. Call me wierd but after spending 35 years in the fire service, I plan on getting out alive, and if possible save as much of my stuff as possible. I like my MH, but it sure is replaceable.

  332. steelpony5555

    The idea of any kind of engine extinguisher is great as is home sprinklers, but we all know we’re not gonna see them because of the cost–no one wants to pay the extra to have them even though everyone will say what a great idea they are—-Our company would use a powder ext. if it was confined to under the hood and small–but if blazing or into the passenger compartment used an 1 1/2 line–out on the highway I would at least hope the cloud of powder would at least knock it down till help got there–would also hope there would be a trucker or someone else with an additional ext. unless I’m in front of a fire station–Granted it may not work but I’m gonna try–yes I have insurance for my MH but you dont make out–I still have lots of personnel stuff I dont want to lose in a fire–my insurance would only cover what I owe on the MH and unless I pay it off early would not make out on an insurance adjustment and would still have to go find a MH I could afford so I would rather spend a $1000 and fix the one I have

  333. Steelpony, good insite. Think about this, if you have a DMH how about an automatice engine compartment extinguisher. You would never open the dog house on a gas puller, or the floor hatch in a DMH you’ll get more then your fingers burned. In a Class A gas puller you’ll fight the engine fire over the tires through the wheel wells. In a Class B or C you’ll have to open the hood just like a car. You do have to get to the base of the fire. Steelpony, think outside the box, what would you use instead of the dry powder or dry chemical? Keep this in mind, CO2 and Halon can both blow away in the wind. What did your engine company use on vehicle fires? By the way this is a great post, keep em coming.

  334. steelpony5555

    True, I didnt think about the BBQ issue with RV’s but the point is not to be afraid to at least empty an extinguisher at the fire—even if you dont kill the fire you will at least knock it down to where it may buy time till emergency services get there or even someone else with another extinguisher—the biggest problem with an engine fire is gettine the hood up to even be able to get at the seat of the fire —which most people should not attempt since you will probably burn your hands or as soon as the hood raises you’ll have fire in your face if it is blazing—but even on a windy day and shooting thru the grill or up thru a wheel well is still better then nothing at all–and it just may be enuf to slow or stop the fire–I have put out 2 different car engine fires with powder extinguishers–both vehicles were saved with just paint and some wiring damage and that was with my small personel fire extinguisher and not with my fire company–it’s not hard and everyone should know how to use one and not be afraid to use one- -just don’t try to be a hero and stay in the door way and out of the smoke—the only sonic cleaning unit I have ever seen to clean up after an extinguisher is a shop vac and lots of rags and water lol

  335. Steelpony, it is true that in a house many fires start in the kitchen. Most investigators will tell you that most house fires are electrical. Also if you check, most RV fire investigators will tell you that fires start in the electrical system. Few fires start in the kitchen of an RV, why unlike a home few RVer’s cook in the kitchen. They either BBQ or eat out. In the past 3 years most DMH fires start in the engine compartment. You are correct that dry powders do put out fires inside a house where there is less wind. In an RV fire which happens outside or a car fire the powder blows away. As does CO2 or halon. And, your sure right that the dust cloud is like an exploded bag of flour. That leads to a long and tiring clean up, if you can clean it up. Remember the ABC dry chemical extinguisher is a Hazardous Material. According to the NFPA booklet on hand held extinguishers, the only way to clean up a dry chemical extinguisher is using a sonic cleaning unit. I myself have never seen one except a tooth brush or cleaning a ring. So if you even try to use a fire extinguisher use one that will really work on the material used in an RV.
    Mac the fire guy

  336. steelpony5555

    Come on I’m a firefighter too and you can knock down a heck of alot of fire with a small powder ext.–alot more then most people realize—now that does not mean to get yourself in trouble and try to fight a fire in your back bedroom far from the door but most engine fires you are outside and the one place that most fires will occur the cooking area you will most likely be in the door way—do not be afraid to pull the pin and use it—you’ll be surprised at what that little red cylinder will do!!—you will also be surprised at the dust cloud it will make–like a bag of flour just exploded!!!

  337. Mark and I have been talking a lot about fire extinguishers. There are also many NEW ones on the market. The following list has undergone a great deal of testing for RVs, Boats and Homes. They are much cleaner and safer then some of the older extinguishers that you may be familiar with.

    Class A Foam & Class B AFFF Foam. Class A foam works very well on wood products as well as Fiberglass RV walls because of its ability to cling and penetrate a vertical surface. However, it does not work as well on hydrocarbon fires because it does not flow horizontally as does Class B foam. The material used in this type of application is Aqueous Film Forming Foam. The Fire Service and the Military have used this type of foam for over 60 years. This material is slightly toxic and corrosive. It has not been readily available to the general public. There has been little to no education on this type of material for use in the RV or boating industry. AFFF Foam cools and covers the Class B fuel to extinguish the fire. Firefighters must be careful not to disturb the foam blanket so the vapors do not re-ignite. AFFF Class B foam does not cling to a vertical surface.

    ABDK COLDFIRE Wetting Agent from COLDFIRE SUPERSYSTEM has NEW Hand Held extinguishers that can be refillable by the purchaser. This ultimate hand held extinguisher is used for Class A, B, D, and K fires. The fine spray from the unique nozzle provides user safety if using on a Class C fire. The nozzle also greatly enhances the cooling and soaking characteristics of ColdFire®, and reduces scattering of the burning materials. COLDFIRE SUPERSYSTEM units have been designed to meet most residential, commercial, recreational vehicle and industrial applications. COLDFIRE SUPERSYSTEM HH units are available in 1L, and 2L, sizes. COLDFIRE SUPERSYSTEM is also available in the NEW 1L, 2L 3L & 4L Automatic engine fire system for your diesel pusher. COLDFIRE is a UL and ULC Listed Wetting Agent for Class A & B fires, EPA-SNAP Listed and considered an acceptable substitute for the traditional toxic foams and Halon 1211.

    ABDK type FOAM/Wetting Agent from FireAde2000 is a NEW TECHNOLOGY, MULTI FEATURED fire fighting and control medium that combines the benefits of 6 different chemical technologies – all in one product. Use of the 16 oz FireAde2000 as a; fire fighting medium, cooling medium, hazardous spill control medium, toxic smoke scrubber, vapor control medium and bioremediation medium. Over 20 years of in house and independent research and testing has led to the refinement of a truly versatile product which has been proven unequivocally to be the most advanced fire suppression technology available today. FireAde2000 is a UL and ULC Listed FOAM/Wetting Agent for Class A & B fires. The 16oz FireAde2000 has the same fire fighting ability as a Dry Chemical extinguisher rated 1A 10B, and is used extensively in the racing industry. FireAde2000 is one of the main fire fighting materials in most European countries.

    That’s why I recommend the NEW foam/wetting agent and/or the NEW wetting agent fire extinguishers. These NEW extinguishers are the extinguishers of the future. As mentioned above, they come in ABDK NEW Wetting Agent ColdFire or ABDK FireAde2000 Foam/Wetting Agent. These extinguishers may be just what the doctor ordered for the RVing lifestyle. You also may want to consider the COLDFIRE SUPERSYSTEM engine compartment extinguisher for your diesel pusher. Remember, above all, your life and the lives of your loved ones may rely on what you know about fire and life safety.


    These are some of the things you want to consider and discuss with the family.

    I. Early Warning Systems – test them together

    a. Smoke Detector
    b. LPG alarm
    c. Carbon Monoxide Detector

    II. How to Protect Ourselves – do this together

    a. Escape Planning
    b. Escape Drills for the RV
    c. Fire Extinguishers
    d. How Much TIME Do I Really Have
    e. What Do I Take With Me

    III. Location of EXITS – check them together and have fun

    a. Front Door
    b. Living Room Windows
    c. Bedroom EXIT Windows

    IV. The Escape HATCH – this can be fun

    a. Sliding Windows
    b. Opening Hatch (EXIT WINDOW)
    c. Special Handicap Doors

    V. What To Do Once Outside – never go back in

    a. Where to Meet
    b. What To Do FIGHT or FLIGHT
    (Attend Fire extinguisher training Live Fire Demonstration)
    c. How Far Do We Go to be safe – at least 1000′

  339. Mark

    As an active Firefighter, with 25 years in the Fire Service, you want to have a good working fire extinguisher handy, by where fire is most likely to occur , namely by your kitchen area.

    The MAIN PURPOSE of a Fire Extinguisher in an RV, is to buy you a few seconds, to GET OUT !!!!!!!!!! There are the new FOAM type, which do not make nearly the mess, of an old type ABC powder unit.

    I know of Fire Chiefs ( and fire men) who have been Killed in their own Kitchens, trying to fight a fire, that was TOO BIG for the Extinguisher, and these were people with MANY YEARS experience, who should know better.

    Also, if you carry your extinguisher around , mounted in your camper, at least once a year, (prob. ,more often) take it out of the bracket, check the hose, nozzle, etc … for obstructions, spider nests, etc…., and turn it over, and lightly tap on the BOTTOM, with a rubber mallet, (or the like), to break free the powder, which has been pounded to the bottom, as you traveled.

  340. You might want to do some research on the types of extinguishers you have around your family and pets. Are they SAFE and CLEAN? In 1996 the manufactures of fire extinguishers published an article for their trade magazine. It stated and I quote “46% of all fires seen by most adults are Class A. 45% are Class B, and 8% are Class C”. Here’s a question for all you fire extinguisher purchers, what fire extinguisher extinguishes a Class C fire. Now to answer the question check Marks posting to see what a Class C fire is. Give up? NONE!!! The only way to extinguish a Class C fire is to de-energize it. Pull the plug, turn off the generator or inverter. So that said, the 8% Class C fires will now go to a Class A fire in 99.9% of the cases. SO when your looking at a fire extinguisher that really works in an RV and is safe around your kids and animals, look at a Class A/B. Can’t find one, well just ask Macthefireguy, and we’ll talk more.


  341. That’s a good point. First and foremost I cannot emphasize enough that the small portable fire extinguishers commonly found in RV’s are designed to put out small fires, not large fires. With that said I would recommend a fire extinguisher with a multi-class rating like ABC. This type of extinguisher can be used for most fires commonly associated with RV’s. There are of course larger fire extinguishers, but they require larger storage spaces and are heavier and bulky to use.

    I mentioned in an earlier comment that fire extinguishers are also given an alpha -numeric classification for the type and size of fire it can extinguish. Ratings will be 1 thru 40 for “A” rated extinguishers and 1 thru 640 for “B” rated extinguishers. The higher the number the larger the fire it can extinguish.

    e.g., for “A” type extinguishers every number represents 1.25 gallons of water, so a 2-A rating means it is equivalent to having 2.5 gallons of water to extinguish the fire. For “B” type extinguishers the number indicates the area in square feet you should be able to extinguish. So a 10-BC rating means the extinghuisher is capable of extinguishing a fire 10 square feet in size.

    Look closely at the extinguishers you have for the alpha-numeric classifications. You can upgrade to larger extinguishers if there is room to store them and if the people who will potentially be using them can handle the extra weight and size of the extinguisher. But always keep in mind the general rule is if you cannot extinguish fire within a minute or so let the professional handle it.

  342. chuck&gail

    You did not seem to list what SIZE and TYPE fire extinguisher you would recommend we carry. In our case we tow a 21′ HTTTH with our SUV. Both have fire extinguishers installed, but I have no idea if they are a reasonable size or type. I think your article was good, but left questions on implementation. How about a followup article with your suggestions.


  343. Thanks for this fire safety information. I didn’t realize there were so many different types of fire extinguishers. I don’t think we’ve ever checked ours, so we are well over due.

    I do know where our fire extinguisher is located and know the location of our escape windows in our 5er. So I do feel good about that.

    Another fire safty issue that should be discussed is children playing with the camp fire. Camp fires are so entertaining to children. I have seen many a child play with the a camp fire. Poking at it with big sticks, throwing logs on without any regard at all to fire safty and their parents sit close by and never say a word to them. A camp fire is not a play toy! Children should be taught to respect the camp fire.

  344. Jon

    Very good article, well written, and informative.
    However, having seen several RV fires along the mountain roads, and the remains of such fires, my opinion is still the same: That fire extinguisher is there for one reason only, to make your insurance company feel good. If I have a fire in my RV, I am going to get everybody out and away, and watch it burn. That extinguisher will not be used. No matter what type RV, they burn too fast to mess with a little bitty extinguisher, especially an engine fire that is being fed by fuel or oil.
    Be REALLY safe, forget the extinguisher, get out and get away!

  345. Clean up can be a major issue with dry powder extinguishers. If you don’t clean the extinguishing agent up quickly it can damage items, especially on the interior of the RV. The good news is that hopefully you put the fire out and still have an RV. Regardless of the type of extinguisher you have always keep in mind that most are very small portable extinguishers and are not intended for fighting large fires.

  346. Dave Goss

    at a FMCA convention seminar on fire safety the presenter, a retired fire fghter, recommended using foam extinguishers instead of the dry powder type because they were more effective and easier to clean up after. You did not mention those. What is your opinion?

  347. These are some questions I received and thought they might be helpful:

    Question: I have a used RV and it didn’t come with a fire extinguisher. Does it have to have a fire extinguisher in the RV?

    Mark Says: I mentioned in the article that the National Fire Protection Agency rules that RV’s must have a “BC” rated fire extinguisher near the exit of the RV. If you own a used RV somebody probably removed the fire extinguisher. Having a working fire extinguisher in the RV is for your safety and the safety of your loved ones. I would definitely replace the missing extinguisher.

    Question: Do you recommend that I teach everybody in the household how to use a fire extinguisher?

    Mark Says: I recommend that every responsible adult should understand how to identify and operate fire extinguishers. Children should never fight fires, it’s too dangerous. The same goes for elderly people who cannot react quickly to these types of situations. Always remember that you do not risk your personal safety, or the safety of others, attempting to put a fire out. The first step is to get everybody out of the RV and away from the fire safely. Have somebody call 911 for help, and if you can’t extinguish the fire within the first minute or so let the professionals put it out.

    Question: I have heard that fire extinguishers are also rated for the size of fire they can extinguish, is this true?

    Mark Says: Yes, Fire extinguishers are also given an alpha -numeric classification for the type and size of fire it can extinguish. Ratings will be 1 thru 40 for A rated extinguishers and 1 thru 640 for B rated extinguishers. The higher the number the larger the fire it can put out. For example, for A type extinguishers every number equals 1.25 gallons of water, so a 2-A rating means it is equivalent to having 2.5 gallons of water. For B type extinguishers the number indicates the area in square feet you should be able to extinguish. So a 10-BC equals a 10 square foot area. But always keep in mind if you cannot put the fire out within a minute or so let the professional handle it.