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Refrigerator fires do happen


docj

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I don't want to turn this into a debate about the pros and cons of RV fridges, but our Sunday evening sure was spiced up by 6+ pieces of fire department rolling stock responding to a refrigerator fire in an unattended RV a half a dozen lots down from us. Fortunately, one of our neighbors was out walking his dog and called it into 911 while his wife sprayed the fire from outside. That kept it from being a lot worse, although the 5er is probably ruined at this point from smoke damage and the fact that the fire department broke down the front door to gain entry. They also forcibly removed the fridge from the RV because, we were told, there was a definite smell of an ammonia leak.

 

All in all, this was caught before the entire RV went up in flames, but that was purely happenstance. A few minutes later would have been a very different story.

 

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Our first RV, a 1986 Shasta, had a Dometic refrigerator and our next motorhome had a Norcold. It was in a 2001 Allegro Bay. Both of these refrigerators failed prematurely. Due to a class-action suit, we received a tidy check from Norcold. This was nice, but didn't quite make-up for the inconvenience as well as exposing us to a significant fire hazard. Our current coach came equipped with a GE residential refrigerator. Ahhh . . . the convenience. How did we ever live without one. As always, oRV

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If our fifth wheel ever caught fire and if there was no danger to anyone or anyone's property I would much rather it burn to the ground. I DO NOT want a fire-damaged unit that has been "repaired"! Same thing goes for an automobile.

 

Couldn't agree more. How many of you when doing normal maintenance check all exposed wiring on appliances? We attended a workshop at the RV Supershow in Tampa one year and they showed how to do it for the maintenance-challenged. We do it before and after every long trip, mainly for peace of mind. What I've been finding is that many (not most) RV fires start in places where the wires are hidden. Glad to hear that those people weren't hurt.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Here's a rather important update to this story--the refrigerator that caught on fire is now lying on the driveway next to the RV it was in. Since I know from the owners that it was a 2006 model I looked to see if there was any indication that it was recalled. Sure enough, dangling from a wire was the little "black box" that is installed during recalls proudly labeled as a High Temperature Protection Device (or something like that.)

 

Again, I'm not trying to diss anyone's choice of using an RV refrigerator but the fact that this fridge had been recalled and STILL caught fire is frightening to me. I have always believed that Norcold got away with doing the absolute minimum to resolve its problems and this is evidence that its fix isn't all that good! Be safe!

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hey Joel - Thanks for the info sharing on this, as I believe many thousands of RV'ers and Boaters remain in jeopardy from the Norcold 1200.

 

And yes, zero respect to for how both regulators and the company has handled this. Reminds me quite a bit, of the way regulators and Workhorse and Bosch all sat around pointing fingers for a few years, before finally a forced recall on the brake problems was addressed. At least that 'fix' was a real fix, vs the Mikey Mouse fixes by Dometic/Norcold.

 

And to be clear, even those with all of the recalls accomplished, IMO, at are a higher risk then should be allowed.

 

We were at an RV repair facility on Sunday, for an AM Monday appointment to review some work we're lining up on our coach. I walked the graveyard of appliances. Four three-way fridges, of which three of these were the Norcold 1200. Two of them had signs of heat damage, one IMO was a flame. And yes, this one had the last recall black box. The other two did not.

 

We personally proactively replaced our Norcold 1200 units on our time, and on our schedule, and at our cost. Flash forward two more years, and we were confident that our upgrade battery bank and solar combo would support our move to a residential fridge, which we did.

 

And the bad news on the 'settlement'? They wanted the SN of the unit, long ago in the trash. And no where in any of our records, did I record the SN. So, nothing for us out of this 'settlement'.

 

Thanks again for sharing the real world experience that you encountered. Safety is not an accident:)!

 

Best to you, and all,

Smitty

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Are you referring to the foam sprays I see on his 'products' page, or a specific item that somehow fits in the back of the fridge? Thanks.

 

I had thought that Mac sold a specialized refrigerator fire system, but he surely doesn't list one on his website.

 

Here's the device I was thinking of: http://rvcoolingunit.com/SS-30-Halon-Extinguisher-Straight-Auto-Deploy-P1872263.aspx

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I had thought that Mac sold a specialized refrigerator fire system, but he surely doesn't list one on his website.

 

Here's the device I was thinking of: http://rvcoolingunit.com/SS-30-Halon-Extinguisher-Straight-Auto-Deploy-P1872263.aspx

Thanks, after googling images of this unit, it looks too big for the back of my mere 5.5cu fridge. Beyond being level, any safety recommendations for a small fridge (leaving 10/30 and so excited)?

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Here's to hoping our paths never cross. With people like you out there it makes me want to stay away from these forums as I see you are a "major contributor". Feel free to not respond.

 

Yeah , I guess I'm kind of a crusty fellow . I really didn't mean to hurt your feelings .

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I really think the RV fridge is dangerous by design, faulty manufacturing aside.

 

My fridge is in a slide, and during the day, the electric fans run constantly. I often wonder what would happen if those fans died; would the fridge overheat to the point of catching fire?

 

I didn't see anything in the literature that addresses what happens.

 

Anyone know?

 

Thinking the ARP might be the answer, or just give it up and go residential.

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Anyone know?

 

Thinking the ARP might be the answer, or just give it up and go residential.

If your cooling fans should stop operating the first symptom will be a need to set the operating temperature of the refrigerator lower to keep it cool. It may not cool well enough even with the lowest setting. That won't have any significant effect upon the fire issue, as it is caused by a different problem. Absorption refrigerators have been in use for many years, with the introduction of them to rural home owners taking place in the early 30's and coming into common use after WWII. The RV versions came into the market in the 50's. What has made the issue more of a concern in the RV world is the introduction of hydrogen into the coolant as a means of keeping the water/ammonia mix what it should be, but hydrogen is flammable and under some circumstances ammonia can be also. The main thing that creates the problem in the modern RV refrigerator is uneven or over heating of the boiler which can over time cause it to rupture and has to be directly over the propane or electric heat source, a sudden rupture can sometimes cause a fire to result. Because the refrigerant is mostly water, usually such ruptures do not trigger a fire, but it happens often enough to be of risk. The two major RV refrigerator manufacturers have both added over temperature devices as a means of improving fire safety, with somewhat disputed success. Norcold has had a much greater problem than Dometic, but either once can experience the issue.

 

What the ARP-rv does is to monitor the temperature of the boiler and any time that temperature exceeds the normal operating range it simply interrupts the 12v-dc power that supplies the refrigerator controls, which turns the refrigerator off until power is restored. The ARP-rv continues to monitor that temperature as it falls and when temperatures are well below the danger level it returns power to the controls. If temperature does not fall to a safe level it never returns power to the refrigerator and so it reams turned off, for safety reasons. I suggest that you visit the ARP-rv website and read about it for yourself. Mark Nemeth, of the Escapee staff and director of RV Boot Camp uses one and recommends it to attendees of that program. I also have one on my refrigerator and have had for about years now.

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Hey Joel - Thanks for the info sharing on this, as I believe many thousands of RV'ers and Boaters remain in jeopardy from the Norcold 1200.

 

And yes, zero respect to for how both regulators and the company has handled this. Reminds me quite a bit, of the way regulators and Workhorse and Bosch all sat around pointing fingers for a few years, before finally a forced recall on the brake problems was addressed. At least that 'fix' was a real fix, vs the Mikey Mouse fixes by Dometic/Norcold.

 

And to be clear, even those with all of the recalls accomplished, IMO, at are a higher risk then should be allowed.

 

We were at an RV repair facility on Sunday, for an AM Monday appointment to review some work we're lining up on our coach. I walked the graveyard of appliances. Four three-way fridges, of which three of these were the Norcold 1200. Two of them had signs of heat damage, one IMO was a flame. And yes, this one had the last recall black box. The other two did not.

 

We personally proactively replaced our Norcold 1200 units on our time, and on our schedule, and at our cost. Flash forward two more years, and we were confident that our upgrade battery bank and solar combo would support our move to a residential fridge, which we did.

 

And the bad news on the 'settlement'? They wanted the SN of the unit, long ago in the trash. And no where in any of our records, did I record the SN. So, nothing for us out of this 'settlement'.

 

Thanks again for sharing the real world experience that you encountered. Safety is not an accident:)!

 

Best to you, and all,

Smitty

Ours is a 1999 Norcold 1200LRIM, not in the class action thing according to the website, it didn't accept our S/N as included. Still have the black "recall" box though. :( BTW, Norcold 12XX series are not 3-way powered.

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