02 Jul RV Safety and Fire Danger
In the earlier sections of this blog, I discussed the safety of RVs in the context of crashworthiness. Those segments considered safety as the vehicle is moved down the road. In this section, I will discuss RV safety in the context of the living quarters, and specifically fire danger.
I can remember in the late 1960s and 1970s it was fairly common to hear about tragedies involving mobile home fires. It seems like every community suffered mobile homes fires where children or an entire family were trapped in a burning mobile home and died. The mobile home manufacturers at the time had little regulation and the structures were generally built poorly and in case of fire, burned extremely quickly. People often got trapped in a structure that might be fully engulfed in a matter of minutes. In 1976, the federal government, through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, passed a series of standards requiring mobile home manufacturers to design and build much safer mobile homes. It is clear that since the enactment of those standards, and since the pre-standard homes have gone out of service, the incidence of death and injuries from a fire in mobile homes has decreased significantly. See, e.g., Hall, John R. Manufactured Home Fires. Rep. Quincy: National Fire Protection Association Fire Analysis & Research Division, 2005. Print.
Unfortunately, like the crashworthiness issue, I do not believe those standards for manufactured homes generally apply to recreational vehicles. Again, the consumer purchasing an RV of any type may be at the mercy of the RV builder, and whether it has even considered fire safety. Unfortunately, there are many incidences where RVs catch fire both while in campgrounds, and even traveling down the road. A cursory Google search of “RV fires” will show many of these often terrifying photographs.
I believe fire danger is a major risk associated with the use of an RV. Furthermore, unlike crashworthiness, where a greater degree of safety can be achieved by ensuring that one rides in the safer sections of safer RVs, fire danger is potentially an equal risk in all types of all RVs, whether it be an inexpensive pop-up trailer or an expensive Class A motor home.
The fire danger is greatly aggravated by several factors:
- First, the designer and builder of the RV may or may not have considered fire safety in the choice of materials. RVs may be fully engulfed in flames in a period of minutes like the old pre-1976 manufactured homes. In residential homes, building codes consider fire safety and build in all kinds of fire breaks and safety considerations into them. Such considerations are generally not required of recreational vehicles. RVs may not be designed with fire safety in mind, whatsoever.
- Second, RVs often have highly flammable sources of fuel. The great majority of RVs use propane as a fuel source. Another common fuel source is gasoline. Only a few RVs, generally the high-end bus coach conversions, rely strictly on diesel fuel, which is much less combustible than either gasoline or propane.
- Third, these RV living quarters travel down the road, often thousands of miles. Every bump, every jiggle, and every turn as the vehicle moves down the road is an opportunity for a connection to loosen. Unfortunately, people often leave their propane on as they travel down the road. Propane is extremely combustible, which is why it is such an excellent fuel. However, that combustion works just as well in an uncontrolled, undesired environment (like a leaking propane line), as it does in a camp stove. Furthermore, even if you do not leave the propane on as you drive down the road, the connections have been shaken and jiggled throughout the entire trip. They may well loosen up and allow a leak that only becomes evident at night when the occupants are sleeping.
- Complicating all of these dangers is the question of egress, or exit, in the case of a fire. Tragically, it is not unusual for a 40-foot motor home to have only one exit. If a quick-moving fire develops between the occupant and the exit, the occupant will have no chance for survival. In the context of fire safety, the consumer should try to research the particular make and model of the motorhome to see if fire safety was considered. The consumer should always ensure that fire and carbon monoxide alarms are installed. (These are inexpensive and highly critical safety devices.)
- Finally, the consumer must ensure there is egress in case of a fire. The bedroom in my 40-foot motor home is in the back, 30 plus feet from the only door. I keep an axe in my motor home’s bedroom closet. In case of a fire at night, I would be awakened by a smoke alarm, and I could easily use an axe to break out one of the large rear windows.
Recreational vehicles can be a wonderful way to travel for fun and business. However, when having fun, consumers often may not consider the significant added danger over their primary home or a normal vehicle. To minimize those risks, the RV owner should review both the fire safety and crashworthiness of the RV.
Below are some links to information regarding RV safety you may find helpful: