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Road Emergency! Can you prepare for the worst?

| Updated Nov 29, 2013

It is Thanksgiving travel season and as we prepare our Roadtrek for a trip, we worry about the heavy holiday traffic.  Earlier this year, on the same stretch of road we will be driving this weekend (called the Valley of Death by a worker at a truck stop along the route), we saw a horrific crash in the rear view mirror.  A sudden slowing of traffic resulted in a semi-truck hitting a huge SUV which spun off the road hitting a smaller car in the process.  Flames shot out of the SUV.

Fire finally almost out. Our Roadtrek is not nearly as close to what remains of the SUV as it appears to be in the photo.

It was only a few cars behind us.   On a clear day with dry roads.  We stopped on the shoulder and Lynn grabbed the fire extinguisher.   Another motorist did also, and we think those two fire extinguishers might have bought 3 or 4 minutes of time.  There may have been enough time to get people out of the vehicle if we could have opened the stuck doors.  Six people died in the fire.  After the fire truck arrived it still took 15 minutes to put out the flames.   This sobering experience convinced us to put together an “away kit” to keep in our Roadtrek for rapid response to road emergencies.

Our local fire chief chatted with us about emergency preparations, and our simplified kit came from his recommendations. “You could add all kinds of things, such as a flash light, crow bar, safety triangles and cones,” he said, “but simpler is better.” He warned against the explosion danger of getting too close to a vehicle fire.

We bought a small bright yellow bag from Harbor Freight to hold the kit. If we encounter a similar road emergency, we’ll grab the kit and run to try to help. We assume that you or others will call 911 at once describing the emergency and its location.

Emergency Equipment
EMERGENCY KIT CONTENTS. Two high visibility vests, available at Wal-Mart. auto glass breaking tool, available at any auto parts store. Two fire extinguishers, available at Wal-Mart. Highway flares, available at Tractor Supply. Good first aid kit, available at Ben Meadows.

What we learned:

  • Maintain situational awareness, including milepost number.
  • Every crash is different.
  • Unless you are a trained first responder, your role is limited.
  • Saving lives is paramount.
  • Warn other motorists.


We hope  never to see another accident like this.  But now we are more prepared if it should happen.  At a minimum, please get one of the tools for breaking windows (side or rear, not front) and cutting nylon seat belts.  It could save someone's life – or your own life.  We bought 2 of them (they cost about $9. ) One is mounted behind the driver's head on the bulkhead; the other is in the away kit.

Mike Wendland

Published on 2013-11-29

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

13 Responses to “Road Emergency! Can you prepare for the worst?”

July 12, 2016at11:28 am, Nic said:

Wow, that’s every motorists nightmare. It’s unfortunate we have several gallons of water to use on a fire, but no hose adapter for the external shower spigot. I think I’ll make one.

September 25, 2014at2:02 pm, Tess Carrillo said:

thank you for sharing.

September 25, 2014at12:53 pm, April Dennis Carman said:

What a horrible experience – thanks for posting about it. We carry most of the things listed, but didn’t have the emergency hammer. We have three young kids in seatbelts and carseats to be negotiated in case of a crash. I bought two of the LifeHammers posted below. Thanks! Hope we never have to use them.

September 25, 2014at11:33 am, Antonette Hayden said:

How can I like an axcidents

September 25, 2014at5:21 am, Vicki Lang said:

Consider learning CPR. Check with your local Red Cross or health dept. Some give free classes to clubs

September 24, 2014at11:14 pm, Rick Ornberg Sr said:

Just did a blog post on the Lifehammer Richard Jenkins refers to:

December 04, 2013at9:55 am, Debbie Buskirk said:

We keep a fire extinguisher in our truck and in the 2.5 years of full time travel, we’ve been thankful to have it handy. We’ve only had to use it twice but only once is enough reason to keep an extinguisher handy. Our first use was to help a stranger who’s engine area was aflame. We got the situation under control for him. The second time was when our ball bearings overheated and caught on fire. A passing car honked and pointed to our rig. We pulled over, hubby saw the flames and grabbed the extinguisher. Finally got the fire out. If we had not had the extinguisher, we most likely would have lost our RV to fire.

December 02, 2013at11:22 am, Judi Darin said:

In addition to having equipment that will help, take a CPR class. It saves lives, maybe of your own family members. Most communities have classes for a nominal fee.

December 02, 2013at8:42 pm, Preston Sewell said:

I recently retired from NJ DOT as an Emergency Service Patrol Operator working on the inter-state highways. Untrained personnel may mean well, but can quickly become part of the problem. Two things not shown in the kit are safety glasses and work gloves, help people IF you are qualified and can SAFELY do so. Get PEOPLE out of and away from the vehicle, don’t worry about personal property – save LIVES first. Get EVERYONE away from the vehicle if it is on fire – tires, batteries, etc. are more likely to explode that a gas tank and can cause serious injuries. DON’T use traffic flares if there is any oil or gas leaks. ALWAYS CALL 911 FIRST with location and details. WATCH YOUR BACK – don’t assume that other drivers will be paying attention. Emergency Service Workers are killed and injured every year on the highways while dealing with traffic emergencies – by other motorists – check with your local Fire Department, CERT, Red Cross, ambulance squad, etc. for training – before you need it.

December 02, 2013at11:07 am, Janet Arnold said:

I hate traffic. I sat in horrific traffic yesterday.
I think your suggestions are a good one. I especially like the one about noting your mile markers. That is a great idea.
I would like to add that driving defensively is also a great idea. I find that since I have owned my RT that I keep distance from the vehicle in front of me and am certainly more aware of what is going on around me at all times.
I am going to organize a kit as in your suggestions this week. It is a good idea. Thank you.

November 30, 2013at8:00 pm, Gary Hennes said:

Had a similar experience a few years back on I-55 S in Arkansas – van overheated and caught fire. Driver and 4 passengers got out of the car so no one was hurt. We and others applied fire extinguishers, but to no avail.
Trailer being towed held most of their instruments – it was a band enroute from one gig to another. Trailer was locked. By the time they realized the car was going to be a total loss, they also realized that the only keys to the trailer were in the car! Aerosol cans were exploding and heavy black smoke billowed across the countryside.
A local volunteer fireman finally arrived in about 45 minutes. We had to counsel him that pouring water on this type of fire (gasoline and electricity) would only make it worse.
I mentioned the incident and that I had expended my fire extinguisher to my insurance agent later. To my surprise, they offered to reimburse me for it!

November 29, 2013at9:28 pm, Bill Sprague said:

Thank you. We certainly do need to be prepared to lend a hand and a kit like you’ve described could make all the difference.


November 29, 2013at9:56 am, Maureen said:

A sobering reminder that it can happen any moment, anywhere. I always have a survival kit in my vehicle but don’t have a responding kit…..thanks very much for the info. Good stuff!!

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