Indiana's RV Manufacturing Business is Booming - What fire protection needs should they consider?

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Summary: Understand the fire hazards in Elkhart, IN RV manufacturing plants.


  • What is the current state of the RV business?

  • What does NFPA say about manufacturing plant fires?

  • RV manufacturing plant fire hazards.

Elkhart County is America’s hub for the recreational vehicle (RV) business.

The United States shipped 540,000 RV units in 2018. This year, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) expects a record high of 550,000 units to ship.

RV manufacturing Indiana

RV Manufacturing Plant Fire Protection

RV business in Elkhart County, IN

RVIA President Frank Hugelmeyer said, “This is the longest period of sustained growth the RV industry has seen. Our manufacturers and suppliers are justifiably proud of shipment gains made year-after-year for nearly a decade.”

Elkhart County has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country at a mere 2.2%. This is thanks to businesses like Thor Motor Coach, Heartland Recreational Vehicles, and RV One who are driving this economic upturn.

With the RV business thriving, manufacturing RVs is at a high. Inevitably, we must ask - when production is high, what fire hazards do you need to watch for?

NFPA manufacturing plant statistics

Between 2011 and 2015, municipal fire departments in the U.S. responded to an estimated average of 37,910 fires at industrial and manufacturing plants in the U.S. This caused an annual average of 16 deaths, 273 injuries, and $1.2 billion in direct property damage.

Structure fires accounted for 20% of the fires, but 49% of civilian deaths, 80% of injuries, and 67% of property damage.

Thanks to proper fire sprinkler design, manufacturing plant fires have fallen. Since 1980, manufacturing plant fires have decreased 65%.

NFPA manufacturing plant statistics - full PDF

RV manufacturing plant Fire

A 2017 fire in Bristol, IN highlighted the fire hazards in RV manufacturing plants and what fire sprinklers can do. The RV manufacturer had a fire inside their facility that could have been catastrophic if they didn’t have fire sprinklers installed. The manufacturing plant is massive, but the fire stayed contained to a single RV. Fire sprinklers kept it contained.

“We thought it was in the roof at first, but it did not spread. The sprinkler system did its job by keeping it at bay until we could get in and take care of the problem,” said Nick Kantz, Bristol Fire Department Chief.

Although the fire stayed contained to one RV, it was hard to fight because of the size of the factory. It took 9,000 gallons to put it out completely.

Kantz said, “Visibility was huge. When you’re in a factory like that and you don’t know the layout and where they put motor coaches and trailers and things, it’s kind of hard.”

The RV that was on fire was a complete loss, but because of the fire sprinklers, no other RV was damaged.

Welding is the perceived cause of the fire.

welding heat source

Heating is the leading cause of fires in manufacturing plants

RV manufacturing is full of heating elements that can lead to fires like cutting tools, welding, and electrical cords.

The first step in building an RV is building a frame using cutting tools and welding.

The next step is installing rubber tires and storage. After that, the assembly begins. Metal, fiberglass, shingles, and wooden walls are installed. This process generates airborne dust and particles, which adds a dust explosion hazard.

During the manufacturing process, extension cords are used liberally, so tools are more portable.

Glues, solvents, and gel coats provide fuel sources throughout the plant.

The fire triangle is oxygen, heat source, and fuel. In an RV manufacturing facility, fiberglass, wood, and dust are the fuel. Cutting tools, welding, and electrical cords are the heat source. And, of course, oxygen is everywhere.

Jeffrey Keiper, President of F.E. Moran Fire Protection National said, “All of these are stored in the same area and present a real fire risk.”

RV manufacturing facilities provide the perfect atmosphere for fire.

In Conclusion

Elkhart, Indiana is the hub for RV manufacturing in America. A local fire protection contractor can create custom fire and life safety solutions for this type of facility. They will understand the RV manufacturing hazards and design and install fire sprinkler systems accordingly.