—A Hot Topic—
RV Fire Suppression Systems
by Jim Bounds of Fire Fight Products, llc
It was difficult to put this article together, not because it was a complicated subject but because I did not want the writing to get complicated, involved or scary. Fire safety is something we all need to understand and act on if we have not already. You may want to investigate this subject further and there are volumes written on it so settle in with a cup of coffee and read around. Many have used “scare tactics” to impact this subject, I personally feel sometimes this goes to scare folks off more than cause action. Please do not let me scare you, I want to impact you though to consider this subject and whatever action you feel appropriate I just want you to do something.
“Be Prepared” as the Boy Scout Motto reminds us and as far as guarding ourselves and our RV investment from fire danger goes, many of us may feel that we can play the law of averages or maybe we think we are savvy enough to not put ourselves in a position that fire might raise it’s ugly head and bite us. If this is you, simply know that you are playing a dangerous game. It takes more than just being careful and even the most aware of us need help in protecting ourselves from this threat.
The materials used in the manufacture of a trailer or motorhome and the fact that the unit is tightly sealed easily increases the severity of the threat and damage if something happens and a fire is ignited. The aircraft industry have specifications and safeguards that reduce their exposure to fire danger but this is also why the manufacture and maintenance of aircraft is so expensive. An RV would cost easily 5 times more to manufacture if construction adhered to FAA rules and regulations so we need to understand this and do our part to safeguard ourselves and our machines from fire.
It’s not enough to simply have a small red bottle of something at the door of our motorhome, fires usually start when we are unaware of the danger and literally explode into a damaging and deadly situation faster than we can imagine and react. I have heard of motorhomes that “went up” before anyone could do anything but get themselves out and run! There are several areas of concern as well as many ways to guard yourself from these dangers. There are things you may never think about that need a plan of action if something were to happen. Some people simply make sure their insurance is paid up and go on but a well insured vehicle will not protect your life if you get caught in harms way so don’t simply protect yourself on paper.
There are many approaches to fire safety, I feel we need automatic fire suppression systems in several areas. The engine and generator compartments both should have some form of automatic fire suppression. There are several that will go into action based on compartment temperature. I also feel that areas with an open flame such as the back of an LP driven frig., an LP furnace and the galley area need thought put into fire suppression. I feel having a handy fire bottle to give you something to battle a fire with is important inside as well as outside of your vehicle. If you are outside of your coach and you see smoke, I would not go into the coach to retrieve your fire extinguisher. Opening the door to get in also lets in air which may flash the fire in your face.
There are several types of fire suppression devices using foam, powder as well as Halon and other “clean agent gas” formulations to squelch a fire. Some will remove the oxygen from the fire while others cool the fire as well as create a layer separating the fire from it’s oxygen. All of these will be effective in their different ways and you need to select one that fits your situation. I prefer to use the “clean agent gas” and “foam” AFFF– Aqueous Film Forming Foam)driven fire suppression systems in an RV. In the confined compartments of an RV, these systems will dramatically knock down a fire without causing damage to the coach. You not only want to protect your investment from the fire danger but also want to protect it from the fire suppression system as well. Cleanup from a fire can be costly from the detrimental effects of the fire extinguisher. The “Clean Agent Gas” systems leave no residue and dissipate into the atmosphere while the water based, non toxic, non corrosive “green” Foam suppressants are easily cleaned up with water. Dry Chemical fire extinguishers leave a caustic, corrosive residue which can corrode wiring and do other very damaging things to your coach.
Of course the fire will damage and destroy property but some fire suppression systems can cause as much and in some cases more damage than the fire itself in a vehicle. A caustic soda fire suppression systems used on an engine fire can corrode wiring easily to the point of destruction and even if you put out the fire right away, the clean up of the aftermath can be expensive because of the fire suppression material itself. The “Dry Powder Chemical” designed fire extinguishers will cause these problems and using one on the interior of your coach may save the coach but in many cases will require most everything it is sprayed on to be replaced. We received a coach after an engine fire that actually ran but the estimate to repair the damage was extensive in that all the wiring, all connections and most all the aluminum in the engine compartment had to be replaced. Needless to say the coach owner was not a “happy camper” when he saw the bill.
I recommend “Clean Agent Gas”gas or Aqueous Film Forming “Foam” (AFFF) systems, these systems remove the oxygen from the fire which puts it out quite effectively. In the case of AFFF “Foam”, being water based it also cools the heat source which is very important to guard against reigniting the flame. Both of these suppressants will not cause damage. “Halon” gas is arguably the best fire fighting material ever made by man but as it goes has been found to deplete the ozone layer of the atmosphere in quantity. This gas is no longer produced but is being reclaimed from previously manufactured fire suppression systems and is still available through several companies. Other new “Clean Agent Gas” formulations (HFC227 & FE36) are replacing Halon, these formulations are available now and do a similar great job at removing oxygen from the “fire Triangle” (oxygen– heat– fuel) without causing damage. The AFFF “Foam” systems both cools the heat source as well as cuts the oxygen from the fire. A water soluble chemical AFFF “Foam”, is an easy cleanup and will not damage wiring (non corrosive) and non toxic.
The automatic systems use a temperature sensitive device (thermal sensor) which sets off the “Clean Agent Gas” or “Foam” when the area the system is installed in reaches the predetermined temperature. There are also hand heldgas & “Foam” systems for use inside as well as outside of the vehicle.
All systems need to be checked periodically by looking at the pressure gauge mounted on the head and replaced if found in less than a ready state. Recently a survey was made at a rally, it was found that fire extinguishers in 7 out of 10 coaches failed to discharge and only 2 operated properly so fire safety is a constant consideration. Do not simply buy some sort of fire extinguisher and feel you are protected, a powder system must be shaken periodically to be sure the powder does not pack together. A powder packed extinguisher will do you no good. This is a main reason why I do not recommend these systems. Know what sort of system you have and also how to use it.
Sometimes no matter how well you plan for an event, there is nothing you can do to guard from serious danger and damage so you also need a plan of action in the event of fire to keep it from being deadly. Know how to get yourself and your loved ones safe and always keep in your mind that danger is around us. Do not put yourself in harms way if at all possible and know what to do in the event of the unexpected. Fire safety is a serious and important consideration in the RV community, something you need to constantly work at and something you must actively prepare for. If you never have to rely on any of your fire preparation you need to consider the time and expense put into it as well spent and if you do find yourself in a position that your preparedness comes into play there is no amount spent that will be too much. Protect yourself and the investment in your RV, consider fire safety, be prepared and be vigilant.
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