Fires in occupied RV’s are rare, but as more and more RV’rs continue to extend the camping experience into winter months using propane furnaces or electric heaters that can be used when hooked to shore power or generators, fire hazards increase as well.
Sticks and bricks homeowners have long been encouraged by local fire departments to practice regular Escape Drills in the Home (EDITH). Fire safety experts know that the feeling of sudden panic experienced while still in a half-sleep stupor can lead to bad judgments and reactions ending with tragic results. I vividly remember a few incidents where we’ve found a victim who died only because they lost their way in the smoke and darkness or found an exit blocked.
Applying this kind of detailed and comprehensive drill to an RV or small camper would seem like overkill, but some basic pre-planning and nightly preparation checks can both save lives and prevent injuries in case of a middle of the night fire.
Though all RV’s and campers have several exits, some of them may be blocked temporarily at night being used as a sleeping area. Others may be blocked with other stuff relocated to accommodate a sleeping area elsewhere. In addition to the obvious need to keep your smoke detector operational, here are a few things to consider:
- Keep all exit opportunities clear, or in the case of smaller Class B's or camper vans, be sure the person sleeping in front of an exit knows how to open it quickly.
- Know where the proper lever or latch is located or if there is a corresponding locking latch that needs to be operated before opening.
- Don’t block that latch.
- Keep portable heaters away from anything that can burn, i.e. trash bin, laundry, bedding (even blankets or covers that may slide off of you overnight).
- Is your fire extinguisher readily available and located at or near an exit? (Should only be used after everyone is outside anyway, but you never know.)
- Anticipate people or pet movement overnight that might dislodge, topple or move flammable objects.
- Add your own additional precautions unique to your situation here.
Firefighters refer to trailers, campers, RV’s and the like as “matchbooks” because of the amount of materials that can burn (called a “fire load”) contained in a small space. As such they are often extinguished, but rarely saved. While it may be easy to imagine how you’d put out this fire, or deal with that fire and so on, when it comes to the real thing actual reactions may be different.
How to get the hell out quickly may be the only way to save your life.