RV Fire Extinguisher Use and Maintenance

Most RVers take their fire extinguisher for granted because hopefully, they will never have to use it. But fire is actually an important component in RVing as it’s used to power the motorhome or tow vehicle by use of internal combustion. It’s also used for the LP operation of appliances such as the water heater, refrigerator, stove top, and oven – all in a controlled environment of course.

But what happens if that fire becomes uncontrolled? You need to be prepared to use and operate your RV’s fire extinguisher in case of an emergency, and know how to properly maintain it over time.

Fire extinguisher

But before we delve into that topic, let’s take a look at what’s actually going on when there’s a fire. Four components must be present for a fire to start and continue to burn. This is referred to as a fire tetrahedron:

  • Fuel : combustibles such as wood, propane, or wiring
  • Oxygen: always present in the air
  • Heat source: heat raises the temperature of the fuel to produce combustible gas. A heat source could be open flames, sparks, overheating appliances, or electrical wiring.
  • Chemical reaction: since we always have the first three in our daily lives, a chemical reaction is needed among these to create a fire.

Related video: RV Fire Extinguisher Helpful Quick Tip

Fire Extinguisher Ratings

The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) requires a UL Listed, UL Rated 10-B:C, U.S.C.G, DOT approved fire extinguisher. The most common type is a Multipurpose Dry Chemical, Monoammonium Phosphate extinguisher with a gauge showing if it’s good or “charged.”

When you look at the efficiency of a 10-B:C rated extinguisher it indicates it is designed to put out 10 square feet of a Class B or C fire. It’s important to understand these rating to see how well it would perform in an RV.

When you look at the efficiency of a 10-B:C rated extinguisher it indicates it is designed to put out 10 square feet of a Class B or C fire. It’s important to understand these rating to see how well it would perform in an RV.

  • Class A: combustibles that leave an ash such as wood, carpet, fabric, fiberglass, etc.
  • Class B: combustible liquids, motor fuel, propane, etc.
  • Class C: energized electrical components, wiring, outlets, motors, etc.

It’s important to understand these different classifications and use the appropriate extinguisher. Throwing water on a grease fire will only make it flare up more. You need to smoother such a fire by covering it with a lid or other approved agent. Pouring water on an electrical fire will only create an electrical hazard.

Fire Extinguishers for RVs

Looking at the different types, you can see it is not rated for a Class A fire which is about 75% of what an RV is made of! Ten square feet is actually only about a 3 foot by 3 foot area as well for a Class B and Class C. The Recreational Safety and Education Foundation has been working hard to promote fire safety and training with classes, literature, and videos. Check out the fire safety segment at www.rvsafety.com. They have also been trying to change the RVIA code for more and better extinguisher ratings, however the chassis portion of the vehicle falls under DOT guidelines which makes sense for over the road trucks for Class B (motor fuels) and Class C (electrical).

I would highly recommend upgrading your fire protection by visiting your local fire equipment supply center or even a home improvement store. And have more than one in your RV! In a motorhome I like to carry one inside and two in outside compartments, one on each side. With a truck and trailer, one inside the truck, one inside the trailer, and one in an outside compartment.

How to Use a Fire Extinguisher

Fire prevention experts recommend everyone should get hands on training for proper use of fire extinguishers. Most fire equipment supply companies provide this training as well as some local fire departments. Contact your local fire department to see what is available in your area. Instructions are also printed on the label for reference which also indicate the appropriate distance the extinguisher will cover according to OSHA.

Fire extinguisher directions

Typical operation utilizes the PASS acronym:

  • P: Pull the pin and hold the unit upright
  • A: Aim at the base of the fire, not the flames
  • S: Squeeze the lever slowly which will release the agent
  • S: Sweep from side to side

Initially the flames will increase upon contact of the agent which is normal as air/oxygen is being pushed to the flame ahead of the agent. However the agent should suppress the flames and fire shortly.

However, it’s important to know your limitations. The small volume fire extinguishers provided in most RVs are designed only to suppress the initial small start of a fire. not put out a fully engaged blaze. By participating in a hands-on training program, you will understand what you can safely tackle, and what you should stay away from for personal safety.

How to Maintain a Fire Extinguisher

Top of a fire extinguisher

Most fire extinguishers have a pressure gauge that indicates if the unit is charged properly which should be checked monthly. However this gauge can be deceiving as the gauge may indicate a proper charge, but the agent inside can “cake” or solidify if the extinguisher is not removed a couple times each year and agitated. To do this, turn the unit upside down and shake it vigorously and strike the bottom with your palm or a soft sand hammer. This will dislodge the agent and keep it from settling to the bottom.

With a few tips on how to properly use and maintain your RV’s fire extinguisher, and on how to select the correct one in the first place, you can make sure your time spent in the RV is safe and prepared.

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4 Responses to “RV Fire Extinguisher Use and Maintenance”

  1. Elina Brooks

    I'll be living in a motorhome starting next month because my job requires traveling a lot, so I wanted to get fire extinguishers to place inside the RV for safety purposes. I appreciate your advice when you told us to get a Class B extinguisher for motor fuels and a Class for electrical fires and to carry one inside and two in outside compartments to be safe. I'll be sure to follow what you said while I look for an industrial supplier to contact about fire extinguishers soon.

  2. Eric

    As a former state fire marshal, I recommend getting an extinguisher with a metal head. They can be recharged after use and then every 3 years, when you unscrew a plastic head the threads rip off. Put them where you can grab them on the way out. Never by the stove, thats where the fire will be, in outside compartment is a great idea. Thanks for the articles, great information.

  3. Theresa Matthews

    Interesting fact that this is one major item that is NOT covered while doing your walk through before taking your rig home. At least not for us.

  4. R Elder

    View your fire extinguisher use and maintenance. I agree on having and understanding of their use. I however have installed foam based fire extinguisher both for interior of coach and a foam based extinguisher in the engine compartment. From my research; the foam extinguisher removes the oxygen far more effective over the powder type. I am sure you are aware of that. Why do they use foam extinguishers in race cars?