Of all the gadgets carried in today’s grey nomad rig, none is potentially more important than a fire alarm, fire extinguisher or fire blanket.
Put simply, these pieces of equipment can – and do – save lives. The speed with which caravans, motorhomes and campervans can be reduced to piles of smouldering ash once fire takes hold is simply mind-boggling.
Of course, the first line of defence in stopping the dream becoming the nightmare is to follow commonsense fire safety procedures. However, sometimes even those who always turn off all gas cylinders while the caravan is being towed or the campervan engine is on, and who turn off all appliances not being used before going to bed, can get caught out.
Given the speed with which rigs can go up in flames, early detection of a problem is literally critical. The law now dictates that caravans are fitted with smoke alarms and these obviously need to meet Australian standards and be properly maintained and regularly tested.
Most experts recommend a photoelectric type of smoke alarm with a hush button that desensitises the alarm for a short period, for example, during cooking to reduce false alarms. Taking out the battery to stop the alarm going off while you are making toast is never a good idea! Alarms should ideally be powered by a 10-year life, non-removable battery. Smoke alarms are commonly located close to the sleeping area in an RV.
All caravans should also be equipped with at least one fire extinguisher. The South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) recommends a Dry Chemical Powder fire extinguisher. These discharge a fine powder that absorbs fuel molecules, depriving the fire of a fuel source. The extinguisher should be serviced annually as a minimum and should regularly be turned upside down and shaken in order to prevent ‘compacting’ of the powder extinguishing agent.
Extinguishers should be located near an exit where they are easily accessible and where escape is also an option. It should be stressed again that when a fire takes hold in an RV, it spreads extremely rapidly. Small fire extinguishers may be useful in containing a fire in its very early stages, or in aiding an escape, but they cannot be expected to put out established fires. Personal safety should come above all else and the most important thing is to get everybody away from danger.
Fire blankets are another crucial addition to fire safety strategy. Constructed of fibreglass, they come in a range of sizes and can withstand temperatures up to 500 Celsius. They can be used to extinguish small fires or to wrap around a person whose clothes have caught alight.
Fire blankets are easily stored and should be kept near the kitchen area but not in a high risk area, such as above a stove where you might not be able to access it in an emergency.
Fire blankets should only be used once.