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NEWS | June 6, 2017

Keep safety foremost when planning summer family activities

By Richard S. Campos 502nd Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Emergency Services

With summer around the corner, it’s time go on road trips, excursions on the lake, have family fun on boats and head to camping sites galore. The list is endless.

But safety should be foremost in any family summer event, whether you’re road tripping it or just driving a few miles. Summer months are fraught with potential concerns, especially when you and the kids pile in the family car.

Cars can catch fire for many reasons. Mechanical or electrical issues are the most common cause. A car can also catch fire as the result of a bad crash. If you see smoke or flames or smell burning rubber or plastic, respond immediately.

Vehicle safety tips:
What to do if your car is on fire

  • Pull over as quickly as it is safe to do so, be sure to use your signal as you make your way to a safe location off the road such as the breakdown lane or rest stop.

  • Once you have stopped, turn off the engine.

  • Get everyone out of the car. Never return to a burning car for anything.

  • Move everyone at least 100 feet from the burning car and well away from traffic.

  • Call 9-1-1.

How to prevent a car fire

  • Have your car serviced regularly by a professionally trained mechanic. If you spot leaks, your car is not running properly, get it checked. A well-maintained car is less likely to have a fire.

  • If you must transport gasoline, transport only a small amount in a certified gas can that is sealed. Keep a window open for ventilation.

  • Gas cans and propane cylinders should never be transported in the passenger compartment.

  • Never park a car where flammables, such as grass, are touching the catalytic converter.

  • Drive safely to avoid an accident.

Know the danger signs

  • Cracked or loose wiring or electrical problems, including a fuse that blows more than once

  • Oil or fluid leaks

  • Oil cap not on securely

  • Rapid changes in fuel or fluid level or engine temperature

Boat safety tips:
Boating safety equipment

  • Keep the fun on the water coming – whether it’s a fishing boat, a canoe, or a personal watercraft that “floats your boat.”

  • Operator inexperience, inattention, recklessness, and speeding are the four leading causes of tragic watercraft crashes and the leading cause of death is drowning.

  • Crash statistics indicate boaters who wear life jackets and take boater safety courses are most likely to stay safe on the water.

Leave alcohol onshore

  • Never use drugs or alcohol before or during boat operation. Alcohol’s effects are greatly exaggerated by exposure to sun, glare, wind, noise, and vibration.

Use and maintain the right safety equipment

  • Have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person onboard and one approved throwable device for any boat 16 feet and longer. The DNR recommends that everyone wear their lifejackets while on the water.
  • Have a fire extinguisher.
  • Have operable boat lights and always test boat lights before the boat leaves the dock and carry extra batteries. Keep emergency supplies on board in a floating pouch, to include a cell phone, maps, flares and a first aid kit.
  • Learn about key equipment to keep you safe.

Paddle board safety tips

  • Wear a lifejacket. More than 90 percent of boat fatalities related to drowning involve victims not wearing life jackets, you need one for your safety. You also need one because Wisconsin law, as well as U.S. Coast Guard law, treats paddleboards the same as kayaks and canoes. This means there must be a personal flotation device for each person on board. However, the best way to obey this law and to ensure your safety is to just wear the life jacket.
  • Carry a whistle
  • Be a competent swimmer
  • Know how to self-rescue
  • Know how to tow another board
  • Know the local regulations and navigation rules
  • Understand the elements and hazards – winds, tidal ranges, current, terrain
  • Know when to wear a leash
  • Be defensive – don’t go where you aren’t supposed to be and avoid other swimmers, boaters, paddleboards
  • Use proper blade angle to be the most efficient paddle boarder
  • And, take a safety course, such as the paddling safety course at http://www.boaterexam.com/paddling.

Be weather wise

  • Regardless of the season, keep a close eye on the weather and bring a radio. Sudden wind shifts, lightning flashes and choppy water all can mean a storm is brewing. If bad weather is approaching, get off the water early to avoid a long waiting line in inclement weather.

Take these steps before getting underway

  • Tell someone where you are going and when you will return.
  • Open all hatches and run the blower after you refuel and before getting underway. Sniff for fumes before starting the engine and if you smell fumes, do not start the engine.
  • Check the boat landing for any local regulations that apply. If boating on the Great Lakes or Mississippi River, review the federal regulations for additional requirements.

Loading and unloading your boat

  • Overloading a boat with gear or passengers will make the boat unstable and increase the risk of capsizing or swamping. Abide by the boats capacity plate which located near the boat operators position.

Follow navigation and other rules on the water

  • Never allow passengers to ride on gunwales or seatbacks or outside of protective railings, including the front of a pontoon boat. A sudden turn, stop or start could cause a fall overboard.
  • After leaving the boat launch, maintain slow-no-wake speed for a safe and legal distance from the launch.

Take special cold water precautions in spring
Cold water temperatures reduce your margin for error on the water: if you fall in or your boat capsizes, you may have as little as two minutes before losing your ability to move your muscles and get back in the boat or seek help.

Recreational vehicle safety tips:

With the summer months approaching the anticipation of hitting the road in the recreational vehicle, or RV, becomes implanted into our brain. To the meticulous RV enthusiast, fire safety is of exceptional significance. In America today, fire is one of the major causes of RV loss. An estimated 20,000 RV fires transpire yearly according to the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA. Don’t let yours be one of them.


In an article written by Kathy Komatz, National Structural Fire Training Specialist, dated August 2012, RV fires can start when your RV is moving or when it is parked. The following tips can help you recognize the most common fire hazards:


Before you go

  • Make a pre-trip checklist and inspect you RV every time you hit the road.
  • Have three fire extinguishers for your RV – one in the kitchen, one in the bedroom, and one outside in an unlocked compartment or in your tow vehicle. Make sure every traveler knows where they are located and how to use them.
  • Test your smoke detector.
  • Have at least two escape routes and an escape plan. Practice it with your travelers.
  • Make sure all travelers can open the front door, hatches and emergency exits.
  • Ensure that your RV’s carbon monoxide and the propane detectors are properly located and functioning.
  • Spontaneous combustion can occur in damp charcoal. Before you travel, buy fresh charcoal, keep it dry, and store it in a covered metal container.
  • Ensure that the power cord for connecting your RV to a campground’s electricity supply is in good condition and of suitable gauge wire to handle the electrical load. Replace damaged cords immediately.

Maintenance is important

  • Have your RV’s brakes checked. A dragging brake can create enough friction to ignite a tire or brake fluid.
  • Bouncing down the road can loosen electrical connections which produce heat, and in turn, fire. Tighten them before your trip.
  • Check all 12-volt connections before every trip. Many RV fires are caused by a 12-volt short.
  • Leaking fluids in the engine compartment can ignite. During your pre-trip inspection, check all hoses for firmness, clamp tightness, and signs of leaking. Have repairs made before you travel.
  • Mechanical or electrical failures cause roughly three-quarters of the highway vehicle fires. Proper maintenance will help reduce your chances of having malfunctions on the road. 

 While driving

  • At each rest stop, give your tires at least an eyeball check. Remember a pressure gauge reading on hot tires is NOT accurate.
  • Shut off the propane at the tank and turn off all propane-powered appliances while driving. If you have an accident or tire blowout while the propane is on, your injury and the damage to your vehicle can be significantly worse. If you elect to travel with the refrigerator operating on propane, you must turn it-and all appliances-off prior to entering a fuel stop. Most refrigerators will keep food cold or frozen for eight hours without running while you travel.
  • Be cautious of where you pull over and park. A hot exhaust pipe or catalytic converter can easily ignite dry grass underneath your RV.

 While you are camping (or parked)

  • Never leave cooking unattended.
  • Never leave appliances that are plugged in and on unattended.
  • Turn off overhead exhaust fans when you leave the RV.
  • Don’t leave 12-volt lights on. Keep clothing and other burnable things away from them.
  • If the flame on your galley stove goes out while in use, unless you have run out of fuel, the gas will continue to flow and could result in an explosion. Turn off the stove and air out the RV before trying to relight.
  • Keep all combustibles – from paper towels to curtains – far enough away from your stove that they cannot catch fire.
  • Gasoline and propane can pose an immediate, explosive danger. Deal at once with any leaks or spills, and use all fuels in adequately vented areas. Operate your generator in an area where gasoline fumes cannot reach an ignition source!
  • Keep your campsite fire sources such as fire rings, tiki torches and lanterns away from all vehicles.
  • RVs often have a very limited number of electrical outlets, and sometimes RVers use power strips to plug more things in. Don’t overload the electrical outlets! Circuit breakers don’t always prevent overloads from starting fires!
  • It’s best never to use an extension cord in an RV. If you must, make sure you use a heavy duty extension cord, and make sure the load you put on it is well within its safe load capacity. Don’t run any electrical cord under a carpet or floor mat.





If there is a fire

  • The first step is to get everybody out of the RV and away from the fire safely.
  • If it is a small fire and you can extinguish it without putting yourself in danger, put it out with a fire extinguisher.
  • If it is too big of a fire or coming from an unknown source, do not risk your safety. Get out.
  • Never re-enter a burning RV to retrieve anything. Get out and stay out!
  • Get help. All adults and older children should know how to dial 911. Remember that cell service may be limited where you are, so make a plan ahead of time.
  • It’s crucial to know your exact location so firefighters can find you.

For more information about Summer Safety safety, visit the National Fire Prevention Association website at http://www.nfpa.org/education or contact the fire prevention offices at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston at 210-221-2727, JBSA-Lackland at 210-671-2921 or JBSA-Randolph at 210-652-6915.

(Editor’s note: Images and information contained in this article were reproduced in whole or part from http://www.nfpa.org.)