One piece of equipment that often gets overlooked, however, happens to be one of the more critical items: a fire extinguisher. Remember that a fire could occur inside or outside your vehicle. Ever wonder what you’d do if your campfire or stove got out of hand? Or if your engine compartment started smoking? You may never experience a fire–and I hope you don’t–but if you do, you’ll be thankful you packed an extinguisher. Many smaller fires can be snuffed out quickly and safely.
Extinguishers come in many sizes. I’ve found the 3 lb. size adequate for vehicles. Buy two high-quality refillable models. You’ll spend a few extra dollars, but it’ll be worth it. Think of a fire extinguisher as an insurance policy. You don’t want to cut corners there.
Mount one on the passenger side of the transmission tunnel. The other should be mounted in a visible spot on or near the back gate. The key here is that it is accessible. Too many people mount or place their extinguishers under boxes or other stuff in the back. It won’t do you any good if you can’t grab it quickly.
Another good spot, especially on smaller vehicles, is on the roll bar. Regardless of where you mount the extinguishers, make sure to review their locations and use with your passengers before departing.
Fire extinguishers come in a variety of types depending on their use. We’ll review only the more common ones here. (For more information, go to www.tvfr.com/dept/fm/extinguishers/index.html.) I’d like to thank my friends at Outdoor Adventure USA (www.oausa.net) for all their helpful comments.
Dry chemical – The most popular form for personal use, these are given a letter rating depending on the type of fire they are designed for. Make sure your extinguisher is rated ABC. That way it can be used on all types of fires, including fuel and electrical.
Advantages: They are easy to operate and will work on all types of fires, if you select the proper model.
Disadvantages: Once discharged, even for a short burst, they must be recharged. The pressure drops and you’ve lost a certain amount of chemical.
The nozzle can clog over time, rendering it useless (especially if you’ve discharged some chemical). Inspect the extinguisher regularly for obvious signs of clogging, but also take it in to an appropriate facility for inspection at least once a year. Make sure to keep the tag on the bottle so you know when it was last inspected.
Finally, the dry chemical is rather corrosive, and may harm sensitive electronic equipment. Make sure you thoroughly clean anything that has been hit with the chemical.
Halon – A very effective agent, but production has been banned due to its effect on the ozone layer. With only limited supplies left, halon extinguishers are becoming harder to find and more expensive.
Advantage: Said to be great on suppressing fires. Because it’s a gas, it leaves no residue.
Disadvantages: Expensive and difficult to find, and it disperses easily in windy conditions. Best used in enclosed spaces.
Halotron® – Marketed as a safer alternative to halon, this gas is said to be very effective in outdoor applications.
Advantage: Leaves no residue.
Disadvantages: Apparently geared more toward industrial applications, Halotron extinguishers aren’t as readily available. May be more expensive, too.
CO2 – A colorless, odorless gas, CO2 works by smothering the fire. Literally taking away the oxygen.
Advantages: Fairly effective in enclosed spaces and doesn’t leave a residue.
Disadvantage: Be careful when using, as the CO2 can affect you as well.
Final note: If you have mag wheels, DO NOT spray water on them should they start burning. You’ll cause an explosion. Use a Class D extinguisher if you have one, or let the fire department handle it. You can find more information on Class D extinguishers on the Web page mentioned above or through a quick Web search.
As you can see, an ABC-rated dry chemical extinguisher is probably your best bet. But what’s most important is that have extinguishers aboard. Inspect your vehicle now and install an extinguisher if you don’t already have one