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Escaping an RV Fire

The following article was originally published in Escapees magazine in our May/June 2018 issue. Though Mac has since retired from presenting his educational seminars, the information he has shared with RVers over the course of his career is invaluable.

In 2012, an RV fire took the lives of John and Sue Thomas, long-time American Coach owners. The fire started from a front right tire blowout, and they were forced to the rear of their coach. We will never know why they couldn’t escape the fire. Therefore, it’s important that you practice your escape in case of an emergency. 

As many Escapees know, I was a fire safety instructor. After the tragedy, I joined forces with Jane and Jerry Lihou #106840 and made a video showing how to get out of your coach, using the emergency window. You can view this video at www.escapees.com/url/015. It is important that everyone traveling in your coach, including children, know how to get out in case of an RV fire.

Step One: Figure Out Your Drop

The first thing you need to do is stand outside your window to check the height. How far can you expect to drop? For the purpose of practicing, you might push the RV park’s picnic table under the window. 

Step Two: Test Your Emergency Window

Next, open your emergency window. This was difficult for Jane and Jerry as they had never opened the fire escape window, and it was stuck shut. After pushing and prodding, it finally came open. 

They sprayed the rubber trim with The Solution, a simple dry wash containing polymer wax, detergent and UV protectant. You can also use a product called 303 Lubricant. These products will help to make the window open easily, and you should repeat this task a couple times a year. 

The emergency window in their American Coach is large and heavy, so you will want to have a dowel stored nearby to hold it open. It would be quite difficult to slide through the window space with the weight of a heavy window on you. 

Step Three: Protect Yourself

Since the windowsills are metal, throw a blanket over the edge of it, corner to corner, to use as padding on the way out. The stronger person can hold one end of the blanket, letting the other use it to slide down. This blanket will come in handy for covering up in inclement weather or in case you are under-dressed. 

Step Four: Get Out

Getting out through the window can be difficult for those who have weak upper body strength. As Jane said, “Once my butt was past the sill, the rest of my body just went with it.” She looked at the bruises on her arms as being the cost of knowing she would be able to get out when the time comes. 

Step Five: Call For Help

Once you are out of harm’s way, call for help. If you have your cell phone, great! If not, you still aren’t stranded. If you’re in a campground, or camping near others, knock on their door and ask to borrow a phone. If you’re on the side of the highway, flag down a passing vehicle, making sure to stay a safe distance away from busy traffic.

During an actual emergency, if you are parked along the highway, throw a flare out the window a few feet away from the coach so cars and trucks will drive around you and you won’t get run over while escaping. These flares are small and won’t take up much room next to the bed. 

RV Fire Safety: Preparation and Practice

How much preparation you can execute will depend on your emergency situation. You may not have time to throw out a flare or a blanket but having a solid fire escape plan may help you replace panic with logical, life-saving actions if an RV fire occurs.

Author

Mac McCoy

Mac McCoy served 33 years in the fire service. He holds a BS degree in fire science and a master’s degree in fire administration. Mac has served as a firefighter, paramedic, captain, assistant chief of training, deputy sheriff and 12 years as the fire training coordinator of Oregon’s Fire Marshall’s Office and Public Safety Academy. During his tenure with the Oregon Fire Marshall’s Office, Mac helped pioneer the state’s HAZMAT program. In the U.S. and abroad, he has taught fire-fighting skills and techniques to civilians, military, firefighters and law enforcement. 

4 Responses to “Escaping an RV Fire

  • Donald Cooke
    3 months ago

    I got my dowel and propped the escape window open. I found it was difficult to maneuver myself out even though I’m in good shape and not overweight. Later, when I lifted the window a bit further to remove the dowel, it came loose and fell to the ground. $140 to replace the broken glass. Windows in new coaches don’t have regular hinges; the new ones are designed to detach when you raise them to approximately horizontal! I’m glad I practiced and hope other folks can profit from my experience.

  • We recently attended a mini seminar at Boomerville concerning fires caused by RV absorption refrigerators. Apparently this is a major cause of RV fires. It was a pretty easy decision to purchase an ARP refrigerator control unit after the presentation. This unit monitors boiler temps and will shut the fridge down to allow it to cool before the boiler is damaged enough to cause a fire. The leading cause of overheating is running the fridge while out of level. The ARP control is cheap insurance that can save your rig or possibly even save your life. It should also extend the life of your refrigerator. I would recommend taking a look at purchasing one of these units.

  • Good post!

  • Tom C Susemihl
    3 months ago

    We moved into our Solitude in July 2018. Fire has been a concern because there’s only 1 door, both ends are elevated and items that may cause a fire are between us and the door. I have an extinguisher in each room, 2 fire blankets in the bedroom. Our bedroom emergency exit is a 26″ window 8′ off the ground above the dresser. With items on the dresser and the height it would be near impossible to get out so we’ve planned to use the door.

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