Fire Extinguishers

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The following article courtesy of "RVing Women"

Fire Protection - Be Prepared

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Do you have the proper fire fighting equipment on board, and are you prepared to use it?

Every year we hear and read of RVs that were damaged or destroyed by fire. The damage occurred because the occupants were unable to stop the fire from spreading. Perhaps they were not with the unit when the blaze began, or perhaps an explosion forced them to flee to safety.

However, if you are with your unit when a fire starts, there are ways to safely fight the fire and perhaps save your RV.

The fire department should be notified as soon as a fire is discovered, of course. Frequently, though, a coach can be saved, and/or damage minimized, if you have access to the proper fire fighting equipment, and if you possess the knowledge and strength to use that equipment while waiting for the fire department to arrive.

The most important goal in fire fighting, however, is the protection of human life. No matter how much you value your rig, do not endanger your safety or that of others if you are ever confronted with a fire.

Although RVs come equipped with fire extinguishers, some owners either replace or supplement the original fire extinguishers with one or more additional units. But if the new fire extinguishers are not of the correct type or size, they can provide you with a false sense of security.

When selecting fire extinguishers, consider the type of fire that can be expected in the area where it will be used and the characteristics of the property to be protected. An extinguisher that is effective in one situation may not be effective in another.

Fire extinguishers have a combination of numbers and letters-such as 1 AB or 1 B:C-imprinted on them. The letters indicate the particular types of fires for which the unit is appropriate.
Class A fires involve ordinary flammable materials, such as wood, paper, cloth, rubber, and some plastics.  Class B fires involve burning liquids, gases, and greases. Class C fires are electrical fires.

A fourth type of fire, one involving combustible metals such as magnesium and sodium, is termed Class D. Since the public is not normally involved with fires of this nature, most portable fire extinguishers for general sale do not have a Class D rating.

The numbers indicate the relative ability of the unit to extinguish each type of fire. The higher the number, the greater the fire extinguishing potential. For instance, an extinguisher that has a 20 B rating has the potential to extinguish a flammable liquid fire that is approximately twice as large as that which a 10 B unit could handle, four times as large as a 5 B unit could handle, and so on. Naturally, the skill and training of the operator will affect outcome, regardless of the fire extinguisher rating.

Numbers do not precede the C rating on a fire extinguisher, because only the continued electrical non-conducting characteristics of the fire extinguishing system are tested. Once the electricity is turned off, a Class A or B extinguisher may be used to fight a fire started by electricity.

Although various types of fire extinguishers are available, it is likely that the unit you purchase will be a dry chemical type. Halon extinguishers were formerly popular because of their powerful fire extinguishing properties and because they left no residue. However, a 1987 agreement, amended in 1992, calls for a worldwide cessation in producing Halon, because it may deplete the earth's ozone layer. If you use a Halon fire extinguisher, keep in mind that although some types of Halon vapors have a low toxicity level, the gases that are produced when Halon units extinguish a fire can be hazardous. Because the space in a motorhome is inherently small, extra care should be taken to avoid breathing these gases. If an agent other than Halon can safely be used to extinguish a fire, it is recommended that it be used instead. Halon extinguishers should not simply be discarded or abandoned. Return them to a facility that can safely recover any gas remaining in the unit.

Dry chemical extinguishers are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased in many stores. Many of these units are rated for A, B. and C fires, so that no time is consumed deciding whether the unit is the correct one to use in a given situation. However, it must be noted that although a particular unit is rated for all classes of fires, it will probably not be equally effective at extinguishing all burning materials. Consideration of the combustibles you are likely to encounter and the advantages and disadvantages of the various types of fire extinguishers is still necessary for maximum protection.

Dry chemical extinguishers can make a considerable mess when deployed. The dry chemical extinguishing agent can be corrosive and may damage the very objects that you are trying to protect. Cleaning the objects as quickly as possible after the fire is out will limit damage.

As with any other safety equipment, fire extinguishers require periodic inspections and maintenance. Examine your fire extinguishers regularly to make sure that they have not lost their pressure. Visually inspect them to ensure that they are not physically damaged and that the nozzles are not plugged by insects or dirt. If it's a dry chemical fire extinguisher, periodically turn it upside down and shake it, thereby preventing the stuff inside to pack at the bottom, which could render it useless.   To determine whether the pressure remains satisfactory, check the pressure gauge or test pin. Do not "test" the unit by partially discharging it. This will cause most dry chemical units to lose their pressure completely, thus requiring recharging or replacement. If you discharge any fire extinguisher, even momentarily, have it professionally examined immediately. Although most units can be recharged, you may wish to buy another fire extinguisher for protection until you find someone who can service the discharged unit. Most larger cities have at least one facility listed under "Fire Protection Equipment" in the Yellow Pages. These types of facilities should be able to assist you.

Finally, a fire extinguisher is of little or no help if it is not used properly. This means that all potential users should know how to operate it and must be physically capable of doing so. Follow these steps to make sure you're ready to use your extinguisher:

Periodically review the instructions printed on the fire extinguisher. You will not have time to read these instructions when you need to use it.

Be sure you can manipulate the device. Although you may be tempted to buy the largest unit available, it is useless if it is too heavy to be maneuvered into place and utilized.

Keep it accessible. A fire extinguisher is useless if you store it out of reach in a closet or cupboard, and consequently cannot grab it when it is needed.

Consider purchasing an extra extinguisher to be used as a "training tool. This unit can be used to practice extinguishing small fires that have been started in a safe location, such as a fire pit. The knowledge gained from this experience will be far greater than the purchase price of the fire extinguisher. Be sure to follow all fire safety rules during this test, and take proper precautions to prevent the fire from spreading if the portable unit is unable to extinguish it.

The approximate discharge time will likely be 10 seconds or less for smaller handheld dry chemical units. Any time spent misapplying the chemical uses some of these precious seconds, making it even more important that you and your family know how to handle your fire extinguishers and do not get yourselves into a situation that simply overpowers your ability to fight the fire.

Don't allow your family to be unprotected, or even under protected, at home or in your RV. Although fire extinguishers are like insurance policies - we buy them and then hope that we never need to use them - make sure that you have the proper fire fighting equipment and that everyone has the training to use it if it is ever needed. And while we all like to think that it will never happen to us, the people who lost a coach yesterday, last week, or last month all thought that it would never happen to them, too, right up to the minute that it did.

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