FIRE! Fire is the greatest immediate threat to any home whether it’s on a cement foundation, or sitting on wheels. What would you do if your hitch towed trailer was on fire?
In late June we were in northeast New Mexico on the final leg to our vacation destination in Colorado. We were making steady progress up Raton Pass on I-25 when we saw smoke high up on the mountain. All traffic shifted into the left lane as fire trucks and police cars came up the right side. As we crawled up the mountain with everyone else, it dawned on us. A travel trailer was being consumed by fire. Luckily, the tow vehicle and the family in it had been able to disengage from the trailer and was about thirty feet forward of the smoking wreckage. They were fortunate to get away without losing both their truck and trailer.
Other than the dreadful feeling of the loss we just saw, I began to worry about the what if’s. What if our brakes somehow locked-up and started a fire? What if we left the propane refrigerator on and it were to catch fire? What if there was an electrical short? What if?
But this post is not about prevention (very important) or putting out a fire. It’s about the reality of protecting what’s critical. If you are towing and you have a dire emergency involving your towed trailer, you have to get away, and get away fast!
As we travel, we are fully and securely attached to our Grey Wolf with the weight bearing bars and chains, cotter pins and sway control bars of our indispensable weight distribution hitch. In a normal situation, there’s just no easy way to disengage quickly. In an emergency, there is only one.
In a fire, we or you won’t have time to lower the jack, raise the truck, pull 4 (or 5!) cotter pins, jump from one side of the hitch to the other side to use the breaker bar to release the weight bearing bars, unlock the hitch ball lock (whose key is on your truck key ring in the ignition inside the truck that’s running while the dog is trying to get out, and the cats are attacking the dog) and then go back, curse a few times until the key goes in, unlock the lock, release the sway controller. Oh, and did you chock the rear tires? No? Well chock the tires next to your travel trailer that’s shooting flames at you, or there will be too much stress on the hitch ball. Run back in the truck to jiggle it back and forth, get back out, then lower the jack to get the truck’s pressure off the ball, then raise the jack again to separate the truck.
As they say, in an emergency, “ain’t nobody got time for that!”
What then, do you need to quickly separate? What are those tools that from now on, I will carry next to me in the driver’s door pockets? On the caveman level, a good rock will get you halfway there. But for our purposes, forget wasting time with the weight distribution system, and first, go straight for the hitch pin that holds the whole enchilada to the truck.
First, pull the cotter pin on the hitch pin that connects the truck to the hitch assembly (no tools required here).
Then, use Tool #1. A hammer, and since the hitch assembly will likely be under pressure, smack the end of the hitch pin to get it out like there’s no tomorrow. You have to separate!
Tool #2 – A Screwdriver – finish the job! The hammer can’t get inside the hitch, so put the screw driver to the end of the hitch pin that should by now be flush with the side of the hitch, and hit the handle end with the hammer until it pushes the pin out. Then get back inside the truck and drive away to a safe distance.
The trailer will drop to the ground as you drive away, but don’t worry about that. Safety is your prime concern, not possessions. Never second guess yourself when it comes to fire.
I’ll rehearse this process (with the trailer attached, but with the jack down) so I can know what to expect. And I hope you do to. In aviation we run scenarios to find flaws and shortcomings in our processes. There is no reason why we shouldn’t also rehearse disaster planning regarding our house and home, our RV.