EMFD stresses the importance of barbecue safety


Each year the chiefs, officers, and members of your East Meadow Fire Department respond to barbecue emergencies in the backyards of our neighborhood.

Of no surprise, already this year, several Long Island fire departments, including East Meadow, have responded to serious fires with significant dollar loss as a result of a BBQ 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 quickly 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 stopping extension into the attic.

If such a fire goes undetected for any prolonged period of time, firefighters will arrive to a large body of fire advancing fast to consume a neighbors precious property, or worse. The following can help during any emergency:

Always remember, any emergency IS a true emergency, particularly if propane or natural gas is involved. Waste no time. Shut off your fuel (gas) if you can do it safely. If not, or your BBQ 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.

In a leaking or active fire state, firefighters will calculate their approach based circumstances of a leak (for how long), a fire (for how long), how much is in the tank, whether the tank itself has been subject to extreme heat, and the tank make up being steel or the newer composite type more susceptible to heat extremes.

Some firefighters will refer to a 20lb cylinder as a bomb, for the devastation it could cause unless the situation is quickly mitigated.

About gas

If you use the most common gas for barbecuing, you have a 20lb 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. Call your East Meadow Fire Department, evacuate your property, and prepare to give all details to firefighters as they arrive.

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.

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 BLEVE (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion). In any case, as always, call your EMFD, 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.

Your East Meadow volunteers are ready to mitigate these emergencies as well. Focus will immediately be placed on cooling down the tank with water, yet, carefully maintaining the active fire. Once cooled, firefighters will approach your tank and attempt to shut down the valve, hence ending the fire danger. More complicated issues may require the Nassau County Fire Marshal's Hazmat unit to assist.

Before barbecuing

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 (i.e.- concrete or asphalt).

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. It is a good idea to establish a safety zone around the grill and instruct children to remain outside the zone. A chalk line works great for this purpose.

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.

During barbecuing

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.

Barbecue safety

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 BBQ 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 BBQ of any type in your home, as deadly carbon monoxide gas can can accumulate.

After barbecuing

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. For CHARCOAL Grills - close the grill lid. Disconnect the power to ELECTRIC Grills.

For PROPANE Grills - 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.

If there is any type of fire or leak call your East Meadow FD at 542-0576.

NEVER attempt to extinguish a grease fire with water. It will only cause the flames to flare up. Use an approved portable fire extinguisher.

Never use a charcoal barbecue on a balcony or terrace unless there is a ten-foot clearance from the building and there is an immediate source of water (garden hose or four (4) gallon pail of water).

On behalf of Chief of Department Eric W. Becker, his assistant chiefs, James Walsh, Paul Kosiba, Peter Cheswick, 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 40 years of Dispatch and Supervisory experience.