I am sorry to lay this on you folks, but it is time to have “The Talk.” Oh I know it will be uncomfortable and you’ll want me to get to the point and turn you loose as soon as humanly possible. Don’t fret. It will all be over in due time. However, you should promise me you will read this over, if only just once.
Ahem, here it goes. I want to talk to you about the moment you see your bus catch fire. You see, I actually did it once myself. And what is worse, I did it during my working life as a professional firefighter, working 24-hour shifts in a typical municipal fire department. Ah yes, I was worse than the typical Joe who constantly speaks his mantra; “It can’t happen to me”, “It ain’t gonna happen to me”. But it did happen to me, sans the gory details, and of course, I did take a significant amount of flack from my peer group back home.
If you’ll allow me to impose my career upon you for a moment, let me just say this; all communities must have a fire department. You pay for a fire department because people find themselves in the darnedest predicaments, the events are frequent and the service is expensive. You can easily find that your home town pays more for public safety (police and fire) than any other service they provide. Odds are good that your home town doesn’t even identify firefighters as firefighters anymore. It is more like firefighter/EMT/paramedic/hazmat technician/auto extrication technician/swift water rescuer/fire prevention counselor, big azz truck driver, and much more.
I could write volumes about fire safety, but this time I think it is more valuable to write about your fire extinguisher protection. I know this can be boring but stay with me please, because buses burn really, really well. This is primarily because they have no sheetrock like your home, they are built of the lightest allowable materials and they will normally burn just like cardboard. Buses are also equipped with pilot lights, gas furnaces, and open flamed cooking devices, and let’s not even discuss the hazards of tobacco smoking.
That said, if you have a little tiny minimal fire extinguisher that came with your coach, and it appears to be made of plastic, you effectively do not have any fire protection. At best, it might put out a fire in a small wastebasket. If it is one of those extremely inexpensive fire extinguishers that you find in a big box store, it cannot even be recharged after being used. What is at stake here are the lives of your family, your pets, and the investment in your motorcoach. Since there are no laws that require you to carry fire protection devices at all, do something amazing for yourself. You are free to have the best you can get, hence the beautiful travel bus. I recommend that you purchase a righteous fire extinguisher, or two. I’ll even loan you the money if you are a bit short this month (Hee hee, if only you can find me).
You only need to know a few things about fire extinguishers in order to make an intelligent purchase. Keep in mind that this is a one time purchase. If you use it on your own assets or that of a fellow traveler, it can be recharged, and often the recharging will be funded by an insurance company. Here are some of the basics that I recommend as a minimum for your $100,000 + investment:
- 2A:10BC rated, dry chemical fire extinguisher for engine compartment fires. Install it in an outboard cabinet not too close to the engine compartment (you need to access it without getting burned yourself). You should also use heavy gloves to open the engine compartment. The steel will be very hot.
- 2A:10BC rated, dry chemical fire extinguisher to be mounted securely inside the living area. The living area is much bigger and has more combustibles than the engine compartment (rugs, draperies, upholstery), so you may plan ahead to use both extinguishers if necessary.
- Always mount the extinguishers securely to a support component of your rig. Extinguishers are under pressure and can rupture if jostled around in a moving vehicle.
- Remove the extinguishers once a month or so and shake the contents. The dry chemical can get packed down with the motion of the vehicle, making the extinguisher less effective or useless if not tended to at all.
- Part of your pre-trip walk-around inspection, that I know you all do, is to check that the extinguishers indicate a full charge, are in good repair and are accessible.
- In the event of a fire especially interior, never attempt unreasonable heroics. To be very crude, with my apologies, it is a matter of how many bodies do you want; one animal or one animal and a human.
- Go on the internet and learn how to use your fire extinguishers (The PASS method seen below, is a good starter).
- In any case, however, if you have a rip-roaring fire, step away from it, an extinguisher will not put out a “working fire”. Keep yourself and others safely away.
OF INTEREST: Very often, you will be spending the night away from the comfort of community services. That means fire protection could be many miles away, your cell phone may not be able to access service to call a 911 dispatcher, and if you can’t handle the fire with what you have, you will be relegated to watch it burn.
The extinguishers I recommend above are available at fire protection equipment stores; not at local hardware and big box stores. Look in the yellow pages for fire equipment or fire protection.
These extinguishers are made of steel, are very strong and dependable, and can actually stop a fire in its early stages. That little old plastic one you have is simply false security and not effective enough to do you any good. Usually, they are only rated BC which means they will only put out fuel fires and or electric fires; and not common combustibles.
This is a photo of an Amerex 2A:10BC fire extinguisher. They are also available on Amazon for around $35. The ABC rated fire extinguisher recommended above is adequate for a typical fire in an RV. The two extinguishers may cost up to $100 with shipping, but you will be adequately prepared for this common disaster.
Amerex is a good quality fire extinguisher, but there are others. Find one that suits your needs and your budget. There is no particular need to buy a halogen or CO2 extinguisher for your use. They are more for commercial applications and are pricey.
Just as an addendum; if you used the extinguisher on an actual fire, you may find hot spots or continual burning. In that case, your next course of action should be to apply water, either from your water tank or a water hook-up where you are parked. There is nothing better than water for fire extinguishment. Be aware also, water does its own damage, and incredible amounts of smoke will be generated from the smallest fire. “Being a hero is optional and not advised”
A is for common combustibles such as paper, cloth, fabrics, and wood.
B is for flammable liquids such as kitchen grease, and most fuels.
C rated extinguishers are effective on electrical fires.
By Ted Boothroyd
Ted Boothroyd is a retired firefighter Captain. He was also a bus driver on the Golden Gate Bridge. He writes for several automotive publications and he is the author of the Gentleman´s Game of Pink Ball Golf.
When he´s not restoring cars or building houses, he takes the time to teach new bus owners how to drive their bus and familiarize them with all accompanying safety guidelines.
These include not just driving, but air brake tests, checklists, hand signals, and road courtesy — all delivered in a clear and straightforward manner that builds confidence through experience.