One of the most important tools that should be in every rig is often overlooked. After-all, there is only one tool that has the potential to save the whole Jeep and its occupants. I’m talking about a fire extinguisher. Sure lots of people carry them, but I honestly think this is because they are required on nearly every organized trail ride so little thought or consideration is given on the type and placement. The problem is, if you don’t have the right type or it’s buried in the back of your rig, you might as well not have one at all.
Why is it so important?
Most Jeeps lead a different life than the average grocery getter. They will see mud and water slung into the engine bay and have many electrical modifications made to them to name just a couple of differences. This all adds up to a greater risk of fire. Many times these fires are small and, if you were prepared and ready, can be put out quickly saving both the rig and, more importantly, its occupants.
Fires spread very quickly. It’s the first few moments that count. Check out the video below. I know this is a minivan and not a Jeep, but you will notice how the owner was there and either didn’t know what to do or didn’t have a fire extinguisher. Even though the local fire department arrived in an impressive time, the vehicle was completely engulfed by their arrival. I think it’s safe to say, it is pretty unlikely that a firetruck would make its way into the places we take our Jeeps which means fighting the fire is up to you.
Maybe I’m preaching to the choir. You already have a fire extinguisher…. Is it the right type and will it work?
Fire extinguishers come is several sizes and types. All too often I see a kitchen or small home fire extinguisher in the back of a Jeep. The problem is not all extinguishers are the same. Some will not work for some type of fires at all, where others will work but may have advantages or disadvantages to another type.
Fire extinguishers have letter ratings to signify what type of fire they are suitable to handle.
A- Wood, Paper, Plastic (Trash)
B- Flammable & Combustible Liquids
C- Flammable Gasses
D- Combustible Metals (Magnesium)
E- Electrical, & Wiring (Some extinguishers list this under “C”)
F- Cooking Oil, Fat (Kitchen Fires)
The goal for a good trail/Jeep fire extinguisher should be an ABC with a minimum of a BC.
Unfortunately, the letter rating isn’t the end of the consideration. Even among these ratings there are different agents that make them work. By far, the most common type is a dry powder. I’m sure the popularity is largely due to the fact this type is relatively inexpensive. While I’m always up for saving money where I can, there are some downsides that should be considered.
First, a dry chemical’s media can settle and compact inside the bottle. An issue only worsened by vibrations. There is a reason it is recommended to have fire extinguishers inspected annually and the one in your rig is no different. At a minimum, you should smack it off a tire every once in a while and slowly shake it around.
Another consideration is the agent itself. Many of the powders used to fight fires are extremely corrosive, especially when in a humid or moist environment. It can quickly attack the electrical connections and other metal components. So, if you ever discharge one, you will need to do extensive cleaning to ensure all the powder has been removed and soon. The corrosion can begin in just hours. It is this reason that so many insurance companies will total a vehicle that has been in a fire (even if it is small). They have found that nuisance issues post repair of a fire being put out by dry chemical makes it not cost effective.
An alternative, and our preferred trail extinguisher, is Halotron. Halotron is a clean agent that is discharged either as a rapidly evaporating liquid or gas that leaves no residue, thereby minimizing or eliminating potential agent-related damage. It is also not susceptible to settling. The only real downside to Halotron for a trail extinguisher is the up-front cost as they tend to run two to three times more than a dry chemical type.
So, now you have a type of extinguisher in mind, what is a good size? We like 1 to 2.5 pound extinguishers for the trail. A 1-pounder will work at 5 to 8 feet, while the 2.5 pound units will go 9 to 15 feet. The 2.5 will also last a bit longer. Anything smaller than a 1 pound extinguisher will help buy time to get away, but likely isn’t large enough to eliminate the fire. Carrying an extinguisher larger than 2.5 pounds is great, but mounting can be quite challenging.
Now that we’ve discussed the types of extinguishers and their pros versus cons along with the sizes, let’s discuss the second biggest mistake I see people make. That is where it is located in the Jeep. All too often I see a fire extinguisher mounted on a tailgate and I’ve even seen them just loosely packed in with other tools and recovery gear. As I mentioned earlier, a fire will spread VERY quickly. There simply isn’t time to fumble around for your extinguisher if you are going to fight the fire in time. It really should be mounted somewhere you can access within seconds no matter what the condition is.
I recommend running a parked drill. Load your Jeep up for a trail day. Get in and buckle up. Have a buddy yell “Fire” and start a stopwatch. Your goal is to get out, get the extinguisher, and run two laps around your Jeep in less than a minute. This test is really a best case time. In an actual emergency, you will also need to safely stop and park your Jeep and it is likely the terrain you will be covering is much more challenging to navigate than your driveway or parking lot. If you can’t get it done in a minute, consider a new location.
Some other things to think about with placement are: Can I access the extinguisher as quickly with the top on or off? Did I introduce a safety concern with my mounting location? I bring up this latter point as I see many people mount their extinguisher overhead. Sure your head may clear it safely when pounding pavement but what about on the trail or, heaven forbid, in a roll over?
I know this is a lot to digest, but hopefully the information provided is more of a help than a hindrance. We hope, this is a tool that you never have to use. But it’s best to be prepared should you need it.
Tell us what you think…. Comment below.