“Everybody loves cooking outside and a lot of things taste better that way,” he said. “But summer barbecuing always means extra work for firefighters and emergency medical services personnel because people forget that barbecuing is cooking over an open flame, and they get careless.”
Figures from the National Fire Protection Agency back him up. Between 2005 and 2009, fire departments in the United States responded to an average of 8,200 home fires involving grills, hibachis or barbecues in each of those years. Among those responses were 3,400 structure fires and 4,800 outside fires. On average during each year of that period, those fires killed 15 people, injured 120 and caused $75 million in direct property damage.
Here are 10 things people can do to be safe while enjoying outdoor cooking:
1. Read the manual that comes with your grill. It offers tips about safe operation, location and operation. If you don’t have the manual, try the manufacturer’
2. Make sure you have your cooker in a safe location. Gas and charcoal grills should only be used outdoors. Both produce carbon monoxide, which can lead to illness or death. The grill should be well away from the home, deck railings and out from under eaves and branches. You want the heat, smoke and poisonous gasses from the grill to dissipate into the air, not into your home. By the way, make sure you’re allowed to have a grill. Many area apartment complexes don’t allow them.
3. Grills get very hot. Exercise care yourself and keep children and pets away from the grill area. In 2009, 17,700 patients went to emergency rooms because of injuries involving grills. About half were from thermal burns and children under 5 accounted for 22 percent of those burns.
4. Be careful lighting your grill. Understand the safe way to do it. Charcoal chimneys enable you to use newspapers to light them. There also are electric charcoal starters (make sure you use an extension cord designed for outdoor use). If you do use charcoal starter fluid, follow the directions. Whatever you use, don’t add flammable liquids like charcoal fluid to coals that already are warm. The flare up will burn anyone around. And when you’re done using your lighter fluid, put it away. Keep it away from the heat and from kids.
5. If you’re using a propane or natural gas grill, check the tank and hoses for leaks the first time you use it. Experts suggest using a soap-and-water solution around the hose and hook ups. If it bubbles, turn off the gas and check the connections. Turn on the gas. If it still bubbles, have a professional service your grill. If it continues to bubble after you’ve turned off the gas, or if you ever smell gas while the grill is on, call the fire department.
6. Keep your grill clean. Grease can cause a fire far beyond what you intended. If the fire gets out of hand, call the fire department.
7. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
8. Don’t leave your grill unattended.
9. A cold beer goes great with barbecuing, but keep in mind that – as we’ve tried to get across – grilling can get dangerous. You need your wits about you. Enough said.
10. Finally, when the party’s over, make sure your grill has cooled off before you move it close to your home or into your garage. If you’re disposing the charcoal, be sure it’s cold before you put it in a metal container or anywhere else. Every firefighter can tell a story about a fire to which they responded that started because someone threw coals they thought were cold into a trash can or other receptacle.
“It’s a sure sign of spring and summer when you can drive down the street and smell what everybody’s cooking,” said Widzemok. “But that’s also a sign that a lot of people are literally playing with fire. We urge everyone to remember that behind the fun lurks danger, and to be careful so you don’t need to invite the fire department to your cook-out.”
More information is available NFPA. Just key “NFPA grill safety” into a search engine for information and videos.
Flanders Fire Company No. 1 and Rescue Squad provides fire protection and emergency medical services to residents and businesses in Flanders and, through mutual aid, surrounding towns. It is made up of about 50 members, all of whom receive training in fire suppression, rescue, hazardous materials response, homeland security issues and emergency medical services. The fire company operates two fire engines, one tower truck, one heavy rescue, a brush-and-foam truck, two ambulances, a multiple-casualty unit and a mass decontamination unit.
In addition, the fire company offers public education services including lectures, demonstrations, training and a trailer that safely simulates a smoke-filled home. For information about membership, donations or public education, call (973) 584-7805 or click on www.flandersfire.org.