RV Fire Prevention and Safety
Although there are many overlaps in the issues of living in a sticks and bricks house (S&B) vs. on an RV, there are also safety issues and problems that are unique to RV living or present greater risk due to the construction and contents of RVs in general. Liquid propane tanks, hydrogen gas and the 12v system are, in particular, risks that are not usually present in a regular house or home. There is no regulation of RV industry so the contents of the walls or other construction materials may be more flammable than in a house.
In an RV fire, you may have less than 20 seconds to escape, so it’s best to prevent rather than have to deal with the consequences of a fire. We’ll start with the simple stuff and move on to the most important, critical steps to ensuring your family’s safety (and that of your RV park neighbors) in the event of a catastrophic fire.
Replace Halogen Bulbs
Due to the chemical process in halogen lightbulbs, the bulbs put out a tremendous amount of heat. From the Wikipedia entry on Halogen Lamps,, “A 300 watt tubular halogen bulb can quickly get up to 1,004 °F, while a 500 watt regular incandescent bulb would only get to 356 °F. That’s hot enough to start a fire, never mind the inefficiency and cost to operate.
Now that LED lighting has become so much more available, with replacement bulbs in an economical price range, there’s no reason not to take this fire risk out of your RV. It’s an easy replacement, the bulbs are inexpensive and LEDs are not the same as they were 10 years ago – you can get a nice warm white if you like. See: Replacing Halogen Puck Lighting with LED Bulbs and LED Replacement Vanity Light Bulbs.
Replace Recalled Refrigerators
Norcold and Dometic each have issued recalls for RV (and boat) refrigerators manufactured after 1997. If you smell an ammonia smell from your fridge, that’s an indication you have a potential fire hazard. See the specific recalls for details, but in the meantime make plans to remove that potential fire hazard from your RV. See: What’s that Smell?!?
Test and Replace Detectors Regularly
Detectors for recreational vehicles are not the same as those made for regular household use – they are instead designed to respond to the particular circumstances (such as vibration and salt content in the air), a wider range of temperatures and the specific risks in an RV. Just like in a home, you should have a smoke detector installed in every bedroom or sleeping area, and in the kitchen area.
Recommended by Mac the Fire Guy, an RV Fire Expert, is the Kidde dual-sensor smoke and fire alarm which uses both photoelectric and ionization sensors to pick up on different types of warnings (particulate from smoke or flames) in order to best protect you. Your smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and liquid propane detectors should be maintained on a regular basis in order to give you early warnings of a potential fire hazard. In addition to proper placement, this means regular testing of the system, replacement (whether it “needs it” or not) at the manufacturer’s recommended interval, and ensuring that detectors are not blocked or impeded in their air flow. See:
Fire Extinguishers – Have Them and Know How To Use Them
Have them – at least two – one near the exit of your rig, and one accessible from the exterior or your tow vehicle, and more importantly, know how to use them. In an RV, you want to make sure you have an ABC fire extinguisher – this means it is capable of handling fires involving most types of materials (A: wood, paper, textiles and rubbish; B: flammable liquids and C: electrical fires) except cooking fires.
If you cook inside, you should probably also have a kitchen extinguisher capable of handling fires caused by cooking grease in your RV kitchen. You might also consider installing stickers on the inside and outside of your recreational vehicle so that others will know where to find an extinguisher in an emergency. See Fire Extinguisher Inside Stickers.
Regular Safety and Fire Inspections
Aside from refrigerator fires, the most common causes of RV fires are leaks in the fuel lines (particularly in the engine compartment of diesel pushers) and other hose connections in the engine compartment, shorts in the electrical systems and in the case of 5th wheels and travel trailers, dry wheel bearings. You should inspect all parts of your motorhome or trailer on a regular basis for indications of potential fire hazards. If you have evidence of rodent infestation, you need to check your electrical system for frayed and chewed wires. Have your fuel system inspected on a regular basis by a certified mechanical shop that knows motorhomes specifically and can check your various systems for hazards, or learn to do it yourself. For much more information on how to conduct a fire safety inspection for your RV, see: 34 RV Fire Facts That Can Save Your Life.
Regularly. You not only need to know the location and operation of your emergency windows, but you also need to consider that you may not be able to drop from the window height to the ground safely. If you have children, consider that their safest egress may not be the same as your own – every family should have and review an emergency exit plan on a regular basis. Consider purchasing an escape ladder – at less than $35 with shipping included (if you’re a Prime member with Amazon), this could be the best money you’ve ever spent, and storing it close to the escape windows on your RV.
Fire Safety and Your Pets on an RV
Would you be able to save your pets in the case of a fire? Pets will often hide when they seek danger, and remember that they’re not going to know about your emergency escape routes. Make sure that you also alert first responders to the presence of your pets so that they can attempt a rescue.