Wednesday, November 15, 2006

WARNING: Everything is dangerous

I’m not the first person to notice that everything nowadays comes with copious and often stupidly obvious warning labels. Like electric hair dryers that are marked, “Do not use while bathing,” and lawn mowers that warn, “Do not place hands under mower while blade is moving.”

The labeling boom is the result of two powerful forces on the consumer market: government regulations and consumer litigation. Big Brother and Big Lawyer never seem to be satisfied.

FEMA Travel Trailer - Not for recreational use!

And so it should not be a surprise that our FEMA travel trailer is virtually decorated with warning stickers. This white box we call home is the perfect convergence of manufacturers’ CYA strategy and government’s “We’ll protect you” maternalism.

EXIT, just in case you didn't know.

It starts at the door.

Above the door, the only exterior door, is the quaint “EXIT” sticker. I suppose it’s possible that in an emergency, an occupant might not know how to escape from the trailer and would benefit from this reminder that this door does indeed lead to the outside. I suppose in an emergency, one might become disoriented in the linear layout of the trailer—bedroom, kitchen, bath—and might forget which of the three doors allows escape.

To add to the possibilities, every window is also a removable escape hatch, and so every window also is clearly marked “EXIT.” We are surrounded with possible escape routes—there are fully five “EXIT” signs in the just three rooms of this trailer.

Smoke alarm in our FEMA travel trailer

The trailer also has two smoke alarms and a carbon monoxide alarm. And every one of them has—you guessed it—a warning label.

Carbon monoxide detector in the FEMA travel trailer

These detectors advise testing weekly. That’s surely overkill. Battery-operated smoke detectors that I’ve owned and operated in the past always went more than a year before needing new batteries. Fire departments started to encourage changing batteries every time we change the clocks, upping maintenance to twice a year. But weekly? Are we being extra-super-obsessively cautious, or is FEMA buying the cheapest, most unreliable smoke alarms in the world?

It turns out that this testing regimen is is not a problem for us, because we set off the smoke alarm every time we make toast. Oh, yes, they work alright… all too well!

There’s also a small box with a little green light next to the oven that I understand is a propane detector. It’s the only appliance here that does NOT have a warning label. Poor little thing, I hope it does not have an inferiority complex as a result.

Warning labels by the stove

The stove is the most popular place for warning labels. Which makes sense since that’s where we use an open flame to cook. There’s a privacy curtain near here, one you would think is intended to give the illusion of a second bedroom for those using the bunk beds. But according to the label pictured below, that curtain is also a fire safety feature. I would intuitively keep the curtain open and pulled as far away from the stove as possible while cooking, but apparently, that’s not correct. The curtain must be designed to shield the bunk beds and bathroom from fiery destruction. Who knew?

The travel trailer advises, CLOSE CURTAIN OR DIE!

In studying these labels, I wonder if there is a seniority in the warnings they project. For instance, I notice some warn, “failure to comply may result in serious injury,” while others promise, “death or serious injury.” If there’s any rhyme or reason to it, the one by the stove wins with its “could result in explosion resulting in death or serious injury.” All that’s missing is a silhouette of a person in flames.

Yet another FEMA travel trailer warning label

And that’s most of them, but not all. Our friends in industry and government, acting in a combination of self-preservation and benevolent paternalism, have made sure we know about all the possible dangers that surround us in this cracker box abode. They’re clearly labeled every hazard with instructions and warnings of dire consequences to help us survive life in a travel trailer.

Which is sure to make us feel totally safe.

Or not.


Adrastos said...

Thanks for the AM chuckle, Tim. I'm warning ya: this is a classic post.

mominem said...

I'm jealous, my trailer is not certified as an "Emergency Living Unit." I wonder what special features that requires or what was left out so that you can't use it for recreational purposes.

I guess in my case life is not an emergency.

I also notice the label is Trademarked, I wonder by who.

Tim said...


Thanks, bud. And I never did thank you for that nice tip'o'the hat you gave me and the blog on its birthday, so thanks for that, too.


Hey you're right--that sticker is TradeMarked. I wonder if it's the sticker design or the phrase, "Emergency Living Unit" that is protected. Can you imagine FEMA having to pay someone for use of the phrase "Emergency Living Unit" every time they say or write it? Nuts!



Maitri said...

I think it's the black hole that is trademarked. Great post, Tim!

P.S. Can you email me Angel's digits as I would like to speak with her about a Christmas gift-giving campaign to underpriveleged kids at ISL, if there are any.

Doctor Fong said...


Reading this blog may cause you to laugh and that may cause you to die.

That is all.

Sophmom said...

They can't trademark that. It's what's called "generic". LOL. Besides, it's looks like they're really TMed 1019484. I'm guessing nobody's filed anything and they just slapped that dumb TM up there thinking they might get around to filing something at the PTO, someday.

I am highly impressed with your safety labeling. Great post.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Tim.

Roux said...

Some of the used trailers are returning to the distribution center in Baton Rouge. I notice many of them are trashed. Broken windows and doors, some with holes in the side.

Shen said...

Are the holes in the side marked 'exit,' Roux?

Good post :).