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Local Firefighters Offer Safety Tips for Grilling

The tips include grilling away from the house and never leaving it unattended.

Summer and the Fourth of July mean grilling, barbecuing and having parties outside to celebrate the warmer weather.

But grilling and other similar activities are not without their certain dangers, particularly in the warm summer months.

And Bridgewater firefighters are offering some safety tips for having fun in the sun.

“The first thing is that every so often it is a rainy day, but propane and charcoal barbecues can only be used outside,” said Bill Rose, of the Martinsville Fire Department. “There is a fire hazard, and they can potentially trap gasses and carbon monoxide.”

For Stephen Cornella, former fire chief of the Country Hills Fire Department, it is important to read the manuals themselves.

“You’d be surprised by how many questions I get asked when the answer was in the manual,” he said. “Please read the manual. Follow all the safety restrictions to the letter. If you have a fire and you didn’t follow the instructions, it is your fault, no matter what.”

Grillers, Rose, said, should make sure the position of the grill is far away from any siding, railings or overhanging trees, and they should avoid wearing loose clothing that could catch on fire.

“And make sure when the grill is set up, it is a safe distance from anything else that is going on, a picnic, outdoor games or foot traffic,” he said. “You need a safety zone around the grill, 6 feet all around, to keep the kids away.”

Cornella also said that the location is everything in terms of placing the grill or smoker.

“Every year hundreds of people cause fires to their houses, garages and patios because they didn’t put their grill or smoker in the correct location,” he said. “Also make sure that your unit isn’t going to require people to walk too close to hot surfaces and that children won’t be playing nearby.”

When using a turkey roaster, Rose said, people need to remember to fully follow the directions for thawing the turkey or other meats.

“Someone could be trying to deep fry shrimp, then the oil catches fire and sets fire to someone’s garage,” he said. “And make sure grills have a grease trap to capture all the oil that drips off food. The trap should be cleaned every so often because it can set on fire.”

And when preparing a marinade for food, Rose said, cooks want to make sure to avoid flare-ups on the grill from the oil in the marinade.

“They happen instantly,” he said.

As for charcoal grills, Rose said, residents should make sure to properly dispose of used coals.

“And once you get the fire started, there is no going back with more charcoal lighter fluid, more is not better,” he said.

Cornella said charcoal grills cause fires more often than gas ones, with the biggest problem being lighting the charcoal itself.

“Lighter fluid causes all kinds of problems, and you should really find a better way to light your coals,” he said. “Lighter fluid turns to a heavy gas at a relatively low temperature. While liquid lighter fluid burns, evaporated lighter fluid explodes.”

With propane tanks, Rose said, they should be checked periodically to make sure they are kept clean, and residents need to make sure the hose is in good shape as well.

“I have seen situations where squirrels and mice will chew on the outside rubber casings, and put a hole in it,” he said. “Be careful and inspect those.”

Cornella said bugs are also a problem, and they can climb into little places, causing gas to flow where it shouldn’t.

“At the first sign of problems, turn off your control valves, turn off the fuel tank and disconnect everything,” he said. “Gas grills produce a great deal of heat that can melt through hoses, knobs and other parts. Assume everything is third-degree-burn hot.”

Also in terms of propane grills, the grill should be lit with the lid open and the gas turned to low, Cornella said.

“Never try lighting any grill with the gas turned up on high, or the lid in the closed position,” he said. “This could cause an unexpected pocket of gas to collect and then ignite, causing an explosion or serious burns.”

“If the grill does not light on the first attempt, leave the lid open to vent and then re-try a couple minutes later,” he added.

Around condos and homeowners associations, Rose said, it is important to remember that some do not allow for grilling. Doing so, he said, can cause fire hazards on the decks in both the individual home and the entire community as a whole.

Aside from home grilling, Rose said, there are some dangers with campfires, which are normally only allowed in certain approved areas.

Rose said those interested in starting one should be aware of what the state fire level is, how hot and dry it is outside and more. Plus, he said, it should only be done in an approved area, with a fire ring or fire pit.

“Make sure to build a fire 15 to 20 feet away from shrubs, pits and long hanging branches,” he said. “A lot of people don’t look up, and they end up building a fire under a branch and then it catches on fire.”

As for putting out the fire, Rose said, it should be burned completely out, and, if possible, people should pour water on the entire fire, not just on the red embers.

“Stir it around with a shovel, and wet it some more,” he said. “You want to feel secure that you can stick your hand in the middle of it and you won’t get burned.”

“Although we don’t recommend doing that,” he added.

Rose said fireworks are also illegal in most areas, although the company does not usually have too many problems with those.

“Local ones are a potential cause for a fire hazard in your yard or a neighbor’s yard,” he said. “If there’s a question at all about whether you should or shouldn’t, you probably shouldn’t.”

In the Martinsville area, Rose said, they have had a few illegal campfires in the past, and some brush fires as well to contend with.

“”Although we have a lot of woods, there are a lot of people around, so we are called inevitably,” he said. “We are not here to disturb anyone’s fun, but illegal is illegal.”

Cornella said some of the most important final tips are to never leave a fire unattended, and keep a fire extinguisher nearby for easy use.

“Although it seems as if the cooking is taking some time to get going, someone should be appointed to the cooking activity at all times,” he said. “And once the ordered food has been cooked, remember to turn the grill off.”

Do you have any tips of your own for grilling over the summer?

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