Fire! Are you prepared?

Fires don’t happen when it’s convenient.  They always happen when you are asleep, vulnerable or are otherwise engaged. Whether a motorhome fire, car, van or house fire they are a scary thought right? This is an article I’d always planned to write, but has sadly been prompted by the tragic death of my son’s friends in a car fire.  This article probably wouldn’t have helped them, but I hope it helps someone in the future.


Fire! Are you prepared?

So consider this scenario. It’s 2am and you are woken by the fire alarm or the smell of burning, you are dazed in your underwear, what do you do?   Where’s the fire extinguisher, fire blanket, do we have one, do you know how to use them? Ever thought about it? Made a plan, discussed it, rehearsed it?  I bet you have at work but never at home, in your van or in your car.  Stop now, read this and take action.

Fire!! Are you prepared?

In just 6 months of owning our van we have witnessed two fires, which alerted us to the real dangers.

The first was a small house fire close by in the early hours, but the second was far more serious.  We were on a campsite at Fakenham Racecourse, and were awoken in the early hours by what sounded like fireworks. 

We jumped out of bed, slipped on jeans and a top. Grabbing our head torches, which we alway keep on the shelf above the door, we went outside. The racecourse plant & machinery store was ablaze.  This building housed the tractors, mowers, strimmers, hedge cutters, chainsaws etc. necessary to maintain a racecourse. Most of them had fuel tanks, which were now exploding. 

The building was between two campsite areas and within a few yards of tents, seasonal caravans and the touring site.  We were the only people awake and outside.  Aside from the fire and our head torches, it was pitch black.

Racecourse Fire – a scary wake up
Fire awareness
Fakenham Fire – what we awoke to. 

Fortunately, through years of corporate life, Miche & I were used to fire drills.  We jumped into action with one of us calling the fire brigade, whilst the other ran around waking up campsite guests. There were tents, motorhomes and caravans near the blaze. We quickly gathered everyone to a congregation point.  Luckily no one was hurt.

We moved vehicles, organised tea, coffee, biscuits, shoes, jumpers and whatever was needed to help those dazed and in their nightwear.  Eight fire engines attended the campsite.  Those close to the fire area could not return to their vans until much later the following day when the fire was officially out.

Aftermath of a fire
The aftermath
Key lessons from this experience:
  • Don’t ignore your ‘spidey senses’ if you think somethings not right, get up and check
  • Have head torches by the door – they are better than hand torches in an emergency, as your hands are free to work
  • When arriving at a campsite in the daylight, identify where the fire equipment is – in the pitch black you can’t see it.
  • Don’t assume someone else will know what to do – without our quick thinking and taking charge, the consequences may well have been greater
  • Shout for help – there’s lots to do, and make sure someone has called the fire brigade
  • Have a good fire extinguisher by the door and a fire blanket in the kitchen. It wouldn’t have helped here, but it might another night
  • What do you have at home? In the car? Most of us have nothing – change that!  Your Motorhome should have been sold with a fire extinguisher but it will be a token – is it good enough? Is it in date?
  • Make sure you and your family have a fire plan and know what it is, practice it.

Fire Equipment

Here I’m going to address the motorhome, but you should consider the car and your home.  We have two different friends who have both stood at the side of the road and watched helplessly as their car went from smoking to ashes (a Mini & a TVR).  I’ll suggest some things in this article, but do your own research and consult professionals if needed.

FIRE EXTINGUISHERS

There are a number of different extinguishers recommended for different fires; Water, CO2, Powder, Foam, Wet Chemical.  Given that we can’t carry around a variety, the two types most suitable for home and van are; Powder and Foam.  You need a Fire Blanket too – more on this later.

Your Van should have as a minimum one dry powder fire extinguisher of at least 1kg that complies with British Standard (BS) EN 3-7. It should say on the canister somewhere, the standard, the date of manufacture and effective life.

Powder Extinguishers

These work by squirting powder onto the fire smothering it and starving it of the oxygen needed to support fire.  They are used when there is a variety in the types of fire that might be encountered – e.g. in a caravan, boat or motorhome.

They are suitable for:

Wood, paper, textiles, rubber, some plastics and other organic carbon based compounds – Class A

Flammable liquids: petrol, oil, paints etc. – Class B

Combustable gasses – Class C

Electrical Fires – Class E

Ineffective for:

Cooking oil fires: cooking oil, grease and fats, Flammable metals e.g. aluminium or magnesium – Class F

Advantages;

  • They can tackle most fire classifications in a van
  • Easy to source; Aldi’s and Lidl’s often sell them for about £10.

Disadvantages:

  • Not recommended for use indoors in confined spaces – the powder and smoke will make breathing and visibility very difficult. For motorhomes, you need to be by the doorway with access to a way out.  That way you can take action and retreat from the fire, smoke and powder.
  • They make a real mess.  But a mess to clear up is preferable to staring at the ashes of your home and possessions.
  • Need to be shaken periodically to avoid the powder settling – a bouncing MH is not enough!

Buy your Powder Extinguisher Now

Foam Extinguishers

Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) or Foam extinguishers work by spreading a thick foam on a fire, starving it of oxygen.  These have wide ranging applications including vans, home, offices and is the stuff they squirt on aeroplane and fuel fires.

They are suitable for;

  • Ordinary combustibles Wood, textiles – Class A
  • Flammable liquids – Class B
  • Electrical fires – Class E
  • Aircraft 🙂

Ineffective against:

  • Class C – Flammable gases: butane, propane
  • Class F – Cooking oil fires: cooking oil, grease and fats

Advantages;

  • Recommended by the Caravan & Motorhome Club as they avoid some of the problems with Powder in confined spaces.
  • No powder in the atmosphere to inhibit breathing or visibility
  • Easier clean up.

Disadvantages:

  • Ineffective on a gas related fire

WATCH THIS: video with info on AFFF extinguishers

Buy Your 2L Foam Extinguisher Now

Or Buy a 1L Foam Extinguisher and Fire Blanket Kit

For info, specialist extinguishers, NOT recommended for us, where we might see a variety of fire types

CO2

They are suitable for;

  • Electrical fires – Class E
  • Flammable liquids – Class B

Water

They are suitable for:

  • Class A – wood and textiles

Wet Chemical

They are suitable for:

  • Class F – Cooking fires
  • Class A – Wood & Textile
Positioning of Fire Extinguishers

Position Fire Extinguishers by the door, so you never have to run towards a fire to grab it. That way you can fight a fire with a safe exit. Don’t be a hero.  A 1kg extinguisher will last about 10 secs max. So enough for a small fire or to help escape a bigger one.  You won’t be putting out a house fire.

In a van, place a Fire Extinguisher by the habitation door. Ideally also place another one in the cab, perhaps behind the drivers seat. That way exits are covered and its easy access to help others. 

ACTION TIP: Don’t lock your fire extinguisher in the garage or bury them at the back of a cupboard.

Secure the extinguisher firmly. I had velcro’d mine to the habitation wall. This seemed fine until I considered the consequences of a head on collision. I didn’t fancy 2kg of metal hitting me on the head at 60mph. I have now Sikaflexed a batten to the wall by the Habitation door and screwed the extinguisher holder to the batten. It’s placed low down in the event that the mount fails in an accident.

How to use a fire extinguisher 

Read the instructions on your canister.  For many it’s;

  • pull the pin
  • point at the base of the fire
  • squeeze the triggers together. You can use several blasts or one continuous shot. 

Remember: 1 Kg lasts about 10 seconds so once its empty leave!

Watch this: “How to use a fire extinguisher” video

FIRE BLANKET

You will note none of the above canister’s are suitable for cooking fires.  For that you need a fire blanket.  Ensure it conforms to British Standards, they are inexpensive so don’t compromise.

These need to be located near the cooking area, but not over it such that you can’t reach the blanket in a fire. Typically they are in a cover which should be affixed to a wall or cupboard so that you can pull the blanket out quickly in a fire. Ours is on the back of the cupboard door over the fridge, which is opposite the oven/hob, so when cooking you’d just need to spin around to access it.

Suitable for:

  • Wood & Textiles – Class A
  • Flammable Liquids – Class B
  • Cooking fats – Class F
  • Using as a wrap to protect yourself from fire and assisting your exit – bigger is better here.

Unsuitable for:

  • Electrical fires – Class E
  • Gasses – Class C

Advantages:

  • The only viable option for cooking fires
  • Can be used for Class A & B fires too
  • Can be used to protect your head/body

Disadvantages:

  • Not an option for larger fires – but nor are any of the above.  Best option – call the fire brigade.
How to use a Fire Blanket

Hold the blanket vertically in front of you by the tabs, with your hands arms and body behind the blanket.  Move forward and place (not throw) the blanket over the fire/area, pat it down around the edges to reduce air coming in.  Do not remove the blanket until the area is cool. Do not attempt to throw a burning pan out the door – you are far more likely to drop it or splash burning oil around the van and on your exit!

Watch this: “How to use a fire blanket” video.

Buy your Fire Blanket Here

Head Torches

Torches don’t put out fires but can help you see what you are doing and where you are going when there is no power and light.  Keep them easily accessible by the bed/door.

Get something brighter than a candle!  They are pretty cheap now.  We use some like those below. There are bigger, brighter, smaller, cheaper – have a look and buy what’s best for your needs. 

Variable light is good – you need power for distance, but much less is needed when talking to people, as you’ll blind them.

Rechargeable means no more batteries, but it can also mean after 5mins the battery is flat, as you forgot to charge it. At least with a battery light you can change the batteries quickly (assuming you keep spares handy) and off you go again.

Aldi & Lidl often have inexpensive rechargeable work lamps.  These can be very powerful and can be stood or hung somewhere.  Useful for all sorts of applications.

THE FIRE PLAN

More important than the kit is knowledge.  Have a plan. This sounds sooo dull we know, but there is a reason businesses have annual drills. This is why crash preparation is a feature of every airplane flight – it can save your life! 

So create a plan today for your home, van and car and talk about it!

Take Action NOW

  1. Check the smoke alarm battery- diarise to change annually.  Don’t wait till it’s flat, it’s about £2 and your home and life are worth much more.
  2. Get two extinguishers, perhaps one foam & one powder. Position securely, one by the habitation door and one in the cab – behind the drivers seat is a good spot.
  3. Buy a fire blanket and secure it to the wall, cupboard door – know how to use it.
  4. Get some head torches and place them for easy access in the dark.
  5. Ensure you know how to use the equipment.
  6. Whats the evacuation plan? Does everyone know what the smoke alarm sounds like, do they know what the fire plan is? Know not to retrieve valuables but get out.  Maybe leave clothes overnight on the floor – it’s served me well, twice.
  7. Have a plan for van, car and home.  You might also be first to the scene of someone else’s incident.

We hope this article proves useful to raise awareness of the importance of fire preparation. Hopefully you and your family will NEVER have to experience a fire. We are NOT experts, we are motorhome owners like you. So please read the instructions on fire products and create your own plan so that you are prepared for action.

Stay safe – love Miche and Dave xxx

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