Each year the chiefs, officers and members of your East Meadow Fire Department respond to barbecue emergencies in the backyards of our neighborhoods. Of no surprise, already this year, several Long Island fire departments have responded to serious fires with significant dollar loss as a result of a barbecue mishap.
With today's creative backyards taking a more elegant look with huge wood or plastic decks, and/or vinyl siding that fuels a fire as if it were gasoline, an unattended grill can result in a raging fire throughout a home. In many cases, fire rapidly climbs the siding easily getting in the soffits of a home's roofline putting a fire department to the ultimate challenge of extension into the attic.
There is so much to know about your barbecue. The following is a list of information that can help you during any emergency.
Always remember, any emergency at your barbecue is a true emergency, particularly if propane or natural gas is involved. Waste no time . . . shut off your gas if you can do it safely. If not, or your barbecue is on fire, or leaking, evacuate the area. Call your East Meadow volunteers directly at 542-0576. Give all the details to the fire dispatcher. Is it a gas leak? Is it a fire? Is it close to your home or any other structure? All this information dictates how our volunteers approach the scene. Rest assured, your East Meadow firefighters are well trained to handle these emergencies. Here is the information you should be aware of to prevent a barbecue mishap.
If you use the most common gas for barbecuing, you have a 20-pound round propane tank under your barbecue. The most important characteristics of propane gas is that it’s colorless, odorless, and is heavier than air. During manufacturing, an odorant resembling the smell of rotten eggs is added to the gas, thus allowing detection of its presence with the human nose. With propane being heavier than air, concern during a leak of a significant timeframe must be raised by the homeowner. Call your East Meadow Fire Department, evacuate your property, and prepare to give all details to firefighters as they arrive. Chiefs and firefighters will make their approach to such an emergency knowing that low lying areas and/or open cellar windows could become a path for the heavier gas to collect and form an explosive environment. Rare as it may be, such an explosive range of gas to air mixture could ignite a major explosion just from the spark of a basement oil burner or light switch. All must be checked by your well-trained East Meadow volunteers.
Those of us who are fortunate to have the convenience of a natural gas service to supply your barbecue should be aware that the most critical difference for residents and volunteers alike is that natural gas is lighter than air. Less likely will it seek a low-lying area, however in large vapor quantity with little wind, a cloud of this invisible gas may form.
Leak vs. fire
We all now know the dangers of a leak, and of course, the dangers of a fire. We should all now know that both are equally dangerous for difference reasons.
With a leak, without a doubt, the potential for an explosion can exist if gas vapor is allowed to escape for any significant period of time, whether its propane gas or natural gas.
A fire, on the other hand presents a different risk to firefighters: the release of burning gas for any period of time can fatigue valve components, or the tank itself. Such damage can result in a sudden violent explosion know to firefighters as a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion. In any case, as always, call your East Meadow Fire Department, evacuate your property, and prepare to give all details to Chiefs and firefighters as they arrive. Do not put the fire out — This will only allow escaping gas to accumulate into an equally dangerous situation.
Check your grill thoroughly for leaks, cracking or brittleness before using it.
Check the tubes leading to the burner regularly for blockages. Check with your specific grill manufacturer's instructions. Make sure the grill is at least 10 feet away from your house, garage or trees. Store and use your grill on a large flat surface that cannot burn. Don't use grills in a garage, porch, deck or on top of anything that can catch on fire. Never use a propane barbecue grill on a balcony, terrace or roof. It is both dangerous and illegal. Keep children away from fires and grills. Have a fire extinguisher, a garden hose attached to a water supply, or at least 16-quarts of water close by in case of a fire. Before getting a propane cylinder filled, check for any damages to it. Never transport or store propane cylinders in the trunk of your automobile.
Don't wear loose clothing that might catch fire. Use long handled barbecue tools and/or flame resistant mitts. Never use any flammable liquid other than a barbecue starter fluid to start or freshen a fire. Never pour or squirt starter fluid onto an open flame. The flame can easily flashback along the fluid's path to the container in your hands. Keep alcoholic beverages away from the grill, they can be flammable! Never leave the grill unattended.
When lighting your propane barbecue, make sure all the connections are secure and open the lid and strike your match or lighter before turning on the gas. When starting, never wait to ignite spewing gas. The longer the gas flows without ignition, the greater potential for a fire ball type reaction. If you have trouble with ignition, turn off the gas, wait to disperse the vapors, and be sure all is safe before re-attempting. Always shut off the propane fuel at the grill and at the bottle after you have finished barbecuing. Otherwise, this will lead to fire hazards, such as leaks and faulty regulators. Store your barbecue and propane cylinder outdoors. Test your cylinder for leaks on a regular basis. When testing for leaks, never use matches or an open flame. Use soapy water or a leak detector. Store your cylinder away from heat and insert a safety plug on the valve. Never use a barbecue of any type in your home, as deadly carbon monoxide gas can accumulate.
Always follow the manufacturer's cleaning and storing instructions that accompany the grill. Keep your grill clean and free of grease buildup that may lead to a fire.
Never store liquid or pressurized fuels inside your home and/or near any possible sources of flame.
In case of a barbecue fire
For propane grills: turn off the burners. If you can safely reach the tank valve, shut it off. If the fire involves the tank, leave it alone, evacuate the area and call the fire department. For charcoal grills: close the grill lid. Disconnect the power to electric grills. Never attempt to extinguish a grease fire with water. It will only cause the flames to flare up. Use an approved portable fire extinguisher.
On behalf of Chief of Department Philip Fertitta, his assistant chiefs, Eric Becker, James Walsh, and Paul Kosiba, and the dedicated men and women of our department, we wish all of our residents a safe summer season.
John J. O'Brien is an active Ex Chief of the East Meadow Fire Department. He is the District Supervisor of the Jericho Fire District and has over 30 years of Dispatch and Supervisory experience.