In an earlier post I reported that five people died in their sleep from carbon monoxide poisoning inside a rented camper at a bike rally in Clarksville, Tennessee.

Investigators said the victims appeared to have been overcome by carbon monoxide fumes that leaked into the camper from a generator. The RV’s carbon monoxide detector, which could have prevented the deaths, was found to have no batteries.

I further reported on a bill that required working carbon monoxide detectors in leased recreational vehicles in Tennessee. The bill also holds RV rental companies responsible if they fail to document and test the CO detectors in their leased vehicles.

It is important to note that this law only applies to rentals. It is still imperative that personal RV owners stay diligent in testing and changing the batteries of the carbon monoxide detectors in their own recreational vehicles.

Carbon monoxide (CO), often called “the silent killer,” is an odorless, colorless gas that is toxic and the number one cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States. Carbon monoxide is created when fuels (such as kerosene, gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil, and methane) burn incompletely. Carbon monoxide can result from camping equipment, such as barbecue grills, portable generators, or other fuel-powered devices and is particularly dangerous in recreational vehicles.

The Tennessee State Fire Marshal Office urges campers to be aware of carbon monoxide dangers in and around tents and RVs.

“Carbon monoxide levels from barbecue grills or portable generators can increase quickly in enclosed spaces,” said Tennessee State Fire Marshal Julie Mix McPeak.

“Campers should keep and use these items in well-ventilated areas to avoid fumes leaking into the openings or vents of RVs and tents.”

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include headache, nausea, and drowsiness. Extremely high levels of poisoning can be fatal, causing death within minutes. Anyone who suspects they are suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning should immediately move to a fresh air location and call 9-1-1 or the fire department.

The Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office offers the following Important Carbon Monoxide-Poisoning Prevention Tips:

  • ONLY USE barbecue grills outside, away from all doors, windows, vents, and other shelter openings
  • NEVER take lit or smoldering barbecue grills inside a home, tent, or RV
  • NEVER USE a fuel-powered lantern or portable camping stove inside a home, tent, or camper/RV
  • ONLY USE portable generators outdoors in well-ventilated areas away from all doors, windows, vents and other building openings to prevent exhaust fumes from entering the RV
  • Install and maintain CO alarms inside homes and RVs to provide early warning of carbon monoxide

A carbon monoxide safety resource ( provides the following 14 safety precautions for RVs:

  • Use a carbon monoxide warning detector
  • Inspect your RV’s chassis and generator exhaust system regularly
  • Inspect the RV for openings in the floor and sidewalls (seal any holes with silicone adhesive or have it repaired before using your generator again)
  • Inspect windows, door seals, and weather strips for effective seals
  • Yellow flames in propane-burning appliances (coach heaters, stoves, ovens, water heaters, etc.) indicate a lack of oxygen—determine the cause and correct it immediately
  • Do not operate your generator if the exhaust system is damaged in any way
  • Park your RV so that the exhaust can easily dissipate away from the vehicle—do not park next to high grass or weeds, buildings, or other obstructions
  • Be aware that shifting winds can cause exhaust to blow away from the coach at one moment, but under the coach in the next moment
  • When stopping for long periods of time, be aware of other vehicles around you that may have engines, refrigerators, or generators running
  • Do not sleep with the generator operating
  • Leave a roof vent open any time the generator is running (even during winter)
  • If you do not feel well, do not be fooled into thinking it is because you have been driving too long, you ate too much, or you are suffering from motion sickness—shut off the generator and step outside for fresh air
  • Have your built-in vacuum cleaner inspected to ensure that it does not exhaust on the underside of your RV
  • Consider parking in a “no generator” zone at RV rallies

Worth Pondering…

Remember, safety is no accident.


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