Get Your Community Grilling – The Fire Safe Way!

By Tom Kiurski

With great weather now hitting us on a regular basis, the smell of the backyard barbecue is all around. Statistics show that 75 percent of U. S. households own a grill, and 41 percent of households own more than one grill. While grilling is a great way to enjoy the summer season, safety can often be overlooked. Plan to hit your community with some safety reminders at several times during the grilling season to keep safety at the front of the grill.

Each year, an average of 6,500 grill fires result in more than $29 million in property loss, according to data compiled by the United States Fire Administration (USFA). In recent years, gas grill fires have increased, while charcoal grill fires have declined. The fast start-up and less time spent cleaning and disposing of charcoal briquettes may be the reason for the popularity of gas grills.

As you may have guessed, grill fires occur most frequently during the summer months. The trend begins to rise in May, and reaches its peak in July, so safety messages should be targeted for that time period.

Remind families to check their grills thoroughly before the first use of the year, and at least once more during the summer season, for leaks, cracks or brittleness in the gas lines. Check the fittings on the grill and cylinder for any leaks or rusting. A soapy water solution applied to the hose and fittings can reveal any leaks in the connections or lines.

Start gas grills with the lid open to reduce the risk of any gas build-up exploding when the gas is lit. Store gas cylinders outside the home, away from any heat sources. Do not transport LPG cylinders in the trunk of a vehicle. Instead, transport them in an upright position on the floor of a vehicle with all windows open. Remove the cylinder from the vehicle as soon as possible.

Keep charcoal grills should be kept clean, and only use charcoal starter fluid to ignite the flame. Never add charcoal lighter fluid after the briquettes have been ignited, and never use any other flammable liquid on the grill. Haven’t we all responded to barbecue fires and burns resulting from people using flammable liquids other than starter fluid to “stoke up” the fire?

Only use charcoal grills in well ventilated areas, preferably in an open area outdoors, away from buildings, since charcoal briquettes give off carbon monoxide when heated. Since carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas, citizens will not be alerted about the danger until the effects of CO poisoning are manifested.

When finished grilling, leave charcoal briquettes in the grill to cool completely, or move them into a metal container with a tight-fitting metal lid.

No matter what type of grill used, locate the barbecue on a level surface at least ten feet away from combustibles. Place the grill so sparks and smoke won’t fly towards buildings, furniture or people.

Here are a few other grilling safety tips:

  • Keep a garden hose, bucket of water or fire extinguisher nearby;
  • Alcoholic beverages, which are flammable, should be kept well away from the barbecue;
  • Cooks should have long-handled barbecue tools and flame retardant mitts on hand. Long-handled tools keep hands farther away from the heat and flames.
  • Children and pets should never be left unattended near a hot grill, as they can easily become distracted and touch the grill.

This would be a good time to review with your citizens the proper actions to take if clothing catches fire. The “Stop, Drop and Roll” technique is easy to do and fun to practice with the family. Remind people to stay away from home burn remedies. Rinse burns with cool water for a minimum of five minutes. Any burn that blisters is considered a second-degree burn and should be treated by a doctor.

Grilling can be a great way to spend some of the lazy, crazy days of summer. By putting a few minutes of safety planning into the picture, your family can relax without worry.

Tom Kiurski is a lieutenant, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book, Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999) is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.

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