Mobile home fire attack: Key factors for firefighters

Smaller spaces and lightweight construction features create many hazards for fire crews


Many communities have a trailer park somewhere within their boundaries or at least recreational vehicles (RV) traveling through the area. These mobile homes come in different sizes and styles while providing a more economical way of living.

The problem: Although there have been a high number of incidents where firefighters have been injured battling fires at trailers or mobile homes, there’s simply not a lot of information about fire attack specific to these dwellings. Headlines from recent news underscore the problem:

The skeleton of the mobile home is built with lightweight steel. Although this may provide strength for the mobile home on a day-to-day basis, when exposed to high heat, it will fail.
The skeleton of the mobile home is built with lightweight steel. Although this may provide strength for the mobile home on a day-to-day basis, when exposed to high heat, it will fail. (Photo/Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office via AP)

Let’s focus on fire attack in mobile homes.

The key factor is that residential structures and mobile homes are two different types of structures and must be treated as such. For one, mobile homes are not built to the same standards as a residential house. Yes, there will be some similarities, such as venting of pipes for the plumbing, drainage for sewage, a main door and windows for secondary escapes, electrical wiring for lights and power; however, the structural integrity of the mobile home differs from that of a permanent house.

The size of the dimensional lumber used in a mobile home is smaller than that of a residential structure – it must be lighter in order for it to be mobile. The smaller lumber will burn much faster and will fail that much faster as well. The paneling used on the walls and ceiling will also be lightweight material and will fail extremely quickly when exposed to heat.

Mobile home flooring is the same quality as the paneling on the walls and ceiling – thinner than the sheeting used in a residential structure – and will also lead to faster failure.

The skeleton of the mobile home is built with lightweight steel. Although this may provide strength for the mobile home on a day-to-day basis, when exposed to high heat, it will fail. Like the other components, the skeleton needs to be light for the overall mobility of the home. You may also encounter aluminum, which is light and strong but will fail when exposed to high heat.

The fuel load inside the mobile home is also a contributing factor. Besides the usual furnishings that people will have inside – mattress, sofa, carpeting, etc. – the materials used in mobile home construction contribute to a high fuel load. Combine that with the narrow living space, the growth of a fire is faster than that of a residential structure. The compartmentation of the mobile home is smaller and provides a smaller fire box for fast fire development.

When fire departments arrive on scene at a mobile home fire, they are usually met with a fully engulfed fire – the result of the factors outlined above. If it is not fully engulfed, going inside for an interior attack or search will be a high risk due to the failure rate of the structure.

Training time

Focus your next training on mobile home fire attack:

  • Review the department’s standard operating procedures or standard operating guidelines (SOPs/SOGs) on mobile home fires. If there is not one, look into developing one that fits the department’s operations.
  • Take a tour of any local mobile home parks in your area. If there is a model mobile home that can be toured, go for a walk through.
  • If there is a dealership in the area that sells mobile homes, schedule a time to tour the homes to see how they are constructed.
  • Discuss what tactics can be employed to combat a fire at a mobile home.
  • Discuss search tactics and what level of risk is appropriate for different scenarios.

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