By Jim Ammenheuser, F157201
National Vice President, South Central Area
Chairman, Education Committee
FMCA’s partnership with RV Alliance America (RVAA) and the Recreation Vehicle Safety Education Foundation (RVSEF) has enabled hundreds of FMCA members to become safer motorhomers. FMCA gives members the chance to take courses offered by these two organizations at FMCA international conventions and many area rallies.
The RV Safe Driving Course, cosponsored by RVAA and FMCA, is an eight-hour classroom seminar that helps participants improve their driving skills. Some motorhome insurance companies give a discount to those who complete the course. The Coach Weight and Tire Safety seminar, cosponsored by the RVSEF and FMCA, examines motorhome load limits, proper coach weights, and tire safety. The Fire and Life Safety seminar, cosponsored by RVAA and FMCA, teaches participants about fire prevention, types of fires, and fire extinguisher use “” and even includes extinguishing of a live fire outdoors.
We have been hearing positive stories about how these classes truly can save lives. The most recent incident I learned about “” a disaster prevented, thanks to the Fire and Life Safety seminar “” involved a refrigerator fire. Thirty-five-year fire-fighting veteran Mac McCoy, who leads this seminar, related the story to me.
On January 6, 2003, just prior to the Western Area Rally in Indio, California, a campground neighbor noticed smoke coming from a motorhome refrigerator vent. The motorhome owners were inside the coach and were alerted. Someone discharged a dry chemical extinguisher into the lower external refrigerator service vent, to no avail. Daryl Daughters, F300216, who had taken the Fire and Life Safety seminar, was close by.
Daryl recalled, “I was standing in the motorhome parking area with a couple of people when we noticed that we were smelling smoke from a fire. It had a very acrid smell and wasn’t at all like a brush fire. Then we heard a woman yell, ‘A motorhome’s on fire! Call 911!’ I could then see the smoke from the motorhome and ran immediately to get the large foam fire extinguisher I had purchased at the Hutchinson FMCA convention three months earlier. I had read on the Internet where there was a fire in Quartzsite, and a person with a foam fire extinguisher was able to put a fire out when others couldn’t with powder extinguishers. My motorhome was the second space away from the one on fire, so I was at the fire very quickly.
“A couple of people were attacking the fire at the refrigerator vent area on the side of the motorhome, but flames were still coming out of the roof vent. I immediately went to the back of the motorhome with my fire extinguisher, climbed the ladder, and went over to the refrigerator roof vent. I tried to pull the vent cover off, but it was too hot. I then shoved the nozzle into the partially melted vent cover and released foam inside. Phil, from the parking crew, came alongside me and grabbed the cover and pulled it off. I was then able to foam the sides of the refrigerator cavity and I continued this until the foam ran out. After about 15 seconds, all of the smoking from the fire stopped.
“I stayed on top awhile longer, then asked my wife to bring our camera over to the ladder, and I took pictures from the top, and then later from the side. When the fire department arrived they checked for remaining hot spots using a thermal imager, but didn’t find any. Foam covered the coils of the refrigerator and the walls of the cavity, and had run out on the ground. The fireman making the report told me that what I did probably made the difference in saving the motorhome.”
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports every five years on losses caused by fires, and keeps statistics on vehicle fires. The NFPA categorizes a “motorhome” as “a mobile unit containing its own motive power.” The NFPA includes truck campers in this category. Keeping this in mind, the NFPA’s latest statistics, which are annual averages from the years 1994 to 1998, indicated that an average of 2,330 motorhome fires per year occurred during that time, which resulted in seven deaths and 78 injuries. The fires caused $22.2 million in property damage.
The NFPA’s statistics for travel trailer fires during that same period noted that an average of 920 fires per year occurred, resulting in three deaths, 26 injuries, and $4.3 million in property damage. Even folding camping trailers are not without hazards. The NFPA indicated that an average of 300 fires, one death, and four injuries occurred each year in this category, causing $600,000 in property damage. Needless to say, fire safety is something every RVer can use.
As mentioned earlier, the RV Safe Driving Course, cosponsored by RVAA and FMCA, is one of the programs offered to FMCA members.
Applying information he learned in this course may have saved one FMCA member’s life. Course instructor Roy Stiglich said that the member related to him how he experienced a tire blowout on his coach. He slammed on the brakes, and the coach was about to flip over. “Suddenly he remembered what we had discussed during the course in Perry and recalled what to do,” Roy said. The member took the advice given in the class: in case of a blowout or rapid loss of air on either axle, stab the accelerator to the floor to regain momentum in the intended direction of travel before gently removing your foot from the accelerator. Do not apply the brakes.
Jim and Bobbie Spitzner, F234661, completed the course at FMCA’s Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, convention in April 2001, and put the knowledge to use almost immediately. They had learned the importance of crossing the chains under the tow bar when hooking up the towed vehicle. This helped them avert a catastrophe on their way home when a hitch pin dislodged from its receiver.
I need to alert those of you who already have taken the RV Safe Driving Course that many insurance companies attach a three-year limit to the discount they may grant you for participating in this program. The three-year period may also apply to other driver refresher courses, such as AARP’s “55 Alive” class. If you are relying on this discount, the time for retaking the course may be approaching, especially since the RV Safe Driving Course started approximately three years ago. Check with your insurance provider to learn whether this is applicable in your case.
The Education Committee has been talking about implementing a hands-on driver education course. We’ve gathered information from several manufacturers, dealers, clubs, and other providers of hands-on classes. We are looking for venues that could support such a course. It may be that such a class needs to be presented by itself so that it will not detract from other convention or area rally activities, or be diluted by the other activities that take place at these events.
Like the two other safety courses that FMCA cosponsors, we know that the RVSEF’s RV Weight and Tire Safety Seminar also has the potential to save lives and property. The seminar even offers participants the opportunity (for a $20 fee for FMCA members) to have their coaches weighed wheel by wheel. According to the RVSEF, 59 percent of the coaches it has weighed have exceeded at least one of their weight ratings. Imagine the potential tire (and coach) damage this can cause, and the subsequent accidents. The RVSEF’s “Recreation Vehicle Weight and Tire Safety Handbook” states that “RVs are seldom loaded evenly from side to side, and, in fact, it is not unusual for us to weigh a unit that is more than 2,000 pounds heavier on one side than on the other.”
By now I hope that many of you have heard about the new RV safety education package that is available to FMCA members. The RVSEF’s RV Safety Training Program includes nine booklets and a videotape and covers the topics of propane, RV weights, tires, towing, electrical, driving, personal safety, fire, and motor fuels. This self-paced program can be completed in the comfort of one’s stationary home or motorhome. This is especially useful for FMCA members who cannot attend one or more of the safety seminars at an FMCA international convention or area rally.
The RV Safety Training Program is available to FMCA members for $29.95 “” $10 off the suggested retail price “” plus shipping and handling. It may be ordered online at www.fmcastore.com; by calling (800) 543-3622 or (513) 474-3622 between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time; or by faxing an order to (513) 388-5288. The program may also be purchased at the RVSEF booth at FMCA conventions and rallies (minus the shipping and handling expense).
If you are curious about the education available to you as an FMCA member, or would like to learn more about RV safety, please check out the many fine articles and information available to you on the FMCA Web site, www.fmca.com. Click on the “Motorhoming Guide” and then on “Safety,” and you’ll find several articles of interest.
The Education Committee was formed in 2001 to promote safer and more enjoyable motorhoming for FMCA members. (From 1999 to 2001, it functioned as a subcommittee.) The committee suggests educational programs for consideration by the Executive Committee and assists in their implementation. I am thankful to have Herb Currie, F144858S, and Gary Resnick, F146323, serving on this committee with me.
We will be meeting this month and reviewing FMCA’s education courses and programs, along with other education items. Our report, as well as any proposals, will be presented to the Executive Committee in May.