fire safety

Airstream Fire Safety Part Two: 9-1-1, and How to Evacuate

When you embark on an Airstream adventure, “don’t leave common sense behind,” said John Gold, RV expert and presenter at a recent Alumaevent. “How many of you have an emergency escape hatch in your Airstream?” he asked the crowd, and all hands waved. “Good!” he said. “Now, how many of you have climbed through it?” As expected, not as many. Gold shared a technique to make launching out the window easier—plus tips on emergency procedures and a fascinating fact about calling 9-1-1.

“What if you have to leave your Airstream in the middle of the night? If you’re camping in nature, anything could happen,” he said. “If a park ranger comes banging on the RV doors—‘get out! fire is coming over the ridge!’—people might say, ‘okay, I’ll go hook up my tow vehicle, and pull in my awning, and pack up my chair.’ The ranger will say, ‘put on your pants, that’s all you have time to do, you’re leaving in one minute’. What do you want to take with you in that circumstance?”

Your emergency go kit

“I just use a paper bag,” said Gold. “Some people use a soft sided lunch box; it’s small, with a handle, and fits in a drawer. Whatever you use, keep it near the place where your phone is charging—preferably near your bed. So everything you need to take in a hurry is right there with you.” Gold recommends the following items and why, in case of a grab-and-go emergency like a fire:

  • Eyeglasses, “so I can see. And a pair of glasses for my wife, so she can see.”
  • Insurance ID card. “If I lose my Airstream in a fire, I want to make sure I can contact my insurance company.”
  • Cell phone, “and even a list of a few numbers of people I can call, because what if my cell phone breaks or isn’t charged or out of cell range?” Yes, pay phones are still a thing.
  • Medications for yourself and your family. “To be on the safe side, bring copies of all of your prescriptions.”
  • Cash. “I don’t want to be penniless when I’m stranded.”
  • Personal documents: a duplicate credit card (the company will issue one if you ask), a photocopy of your drivers license (“in case you need to prove who you are,”) and if you’re traveling outside your home country, a copy of your passport, military ID card, or voter registration card to prove your citizenship.

Pets and emergencies

If you travel with a small pet you’ll need one more thing: a pillowcase with a zipper. “In the event of an emergency that may be loud or scary, a big dog will take off and come back when you call him,” explained Gold. “A small dog might not—he could run away and not come back. You could spend weeks or months looking for him. If you have to get out in a hurry, put pooch in the pillowcase, zip it up, grab your emergency escape kit, and throw them all out the window if you have to.” (Make sure you include your charged cell phone, too.) “Yes, Fluffy’s feelings will be hurt, but Fluffy will still be with you.”

Your Airstream escape window

Typically, Airstreams have one door, and at the other end is another way out, through the window. “Do you know how it works?” asked Gold. “If not, you have an assignment. Take the screen off, open it, and then close it again. Have your spouse do it too.” Practicing this simple function is imperative. In the event of a fire after dark, even if your trailer is filled with smoke and you can’t see, you can feel for the latch and operate the screen and window. Before every trip it’s a good idea to open your back window anyway; the rubber may have made a tight seal.

airstream window latch

How to evacuate through the emergency window

“You open it up, grab everything you want to take with you—your emergency escape kit, your pet in a pillowcase, your charged cell phone—and throw it all out the window,” stated Gold matter-of-factly. “Then take your bedspread and hang it out the window.” The bedspread prevents you from getting caught up on the lip of the window, and makes escape easier. “One person stands on half of the bedspread that’s on the floor inside the trailer, and the other person goes out the window,” Gold explained. “You can slowly descend, it’s not that far. Just slide over the sill and out. Then the second person goes out the window—the first person helps them—and then, guys, you put the bedspread around your wife if she’s in her underwear,” Gold joked.

Know where you are

Dialing 9-1-1 while camping is different from making an emergency call from home, where the dispatch has an enhanced identification system that lets the operator know where you live and your closest fire department. When traveling, you’ll have to provide everything they need to know. “What you see on TV, on NCIS, where they track someone using their cell phone? Fantasyland,” said Gold. “You have to tell them every detail.” State the circumstances— “there’s a fire in my RV, my spouse is putting it out, we need help,”—then provide:

  • Your name
  • Your cell phone number
  • The name of the RV park or campground
  • Your campsite number

While traveling down the road, if you’re the vehicle passenger, look up from your device every half hour or so and make a mental note of your whereabouts. “If the driver is suddenly slumped over the steering wheel unconscious and you dial 9-1-1 for help, and they ask where you are, you can’t say ‘I’m in my car’,” laughed Gold. “Say, ‘I’m on I-10, heading westbound, and 15 minutes ago we passed Casa Grande.” Exit numbers and mile markers are good to know as well.

Dial 9-1-1 even if you have no bars on your phone

Here’s the best tip you’ll learn today: every cell carrier must respond to a 9-1-1 call. If you have low or no signal strength on your, for example, T-Mobile phone, “Dial 9-1-1 anyway,” said Gold. “Almost always, an operator will answer the phone in an emergency, no matter who your cell phone plan is with.”

Bonus 9-1-1 tip

“Let’s say you have a cell phone in the closet, you haven’t used it in seven years, it doesn’t even have a SIM card,” said Gold. “If that cell phone is charged and you dial Dial 9-1-1, you’ll reach an operator. Which means maybe it pays to hold on your old cell phone.”

By RG Coleman