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Summer grilling: Don’t be lax with open flames

file2501267653737The summer season is in full swing and with summer comes barbecues and bonfires. Peter Bernstein, deputy fire marshal for Georgetown, said people should take precautions when dealing with any type of grill, campfire or fireworks.

When using a gas grill that requires a propane tank, Mr. Bernstein said the first thing to do is to check the date on the propane cylinder.

“On the propane tank, there should be a stamped year when the tank was manufactured. If the tank is 10 years old, they will not refill it or they should not refill it,” he said.

When a propane tank needs to be refilled, it should be a one-stop trip, he said.

“If you let it sit in the car and heat up, the vent can open and release gas. You don’t want to be driving around [with a tank] in the car on a hot summer day,” he said.

Some places will do a propane tank exchange. They will take the empty propane tank and instead of refilling it, they will give an already full tank.

“Either way, make that trip unto itself,” said Mr. Bernstein. “When you get home, the propane tank should not be stored inside the house. It should be stored in a shed or outside under something to keep the tank from being exposed to the weather, and not sitting in the sun.”

On most newer tanks, he said, there is an inside thread so that when the tank is hooked up to the grill regulator, a wrench isn’t needed to close it tight.

“You hand tighten the knob to make it snug and that [inside thread] prevents leaking if it opens in the car,” he said. “Old propane tanks used to have a plug; new ones don’t. They just need to have a tab to protect the threads.”

Also, on new tanks, there are overfill protection devices (OPDs) inside the tank so that if the tank tips over, it won’t leak, said Mr. Bernstein.

Places that refill tanks won’t refill a propane cylinder unless there is an OPD valve, he said.

“You can tell if it’s an OPD tank because the handle is a triangle shape, not round. Round knobs do not have OPD and will probably not be filled,” he said.

“Propane is a flammable liquid so you have to take some precautions when using it. Make sure that when you hook your grill up, the valve is on tight and the hose is not damaged,” he said.

The hose connecting the tank to the grill can sometimes be chewed on by animals, so people should inspect it before hooking up their tank, he said.

“Do a visual check to make sure nothing is wrong with the control knobs and valve assembly before lighting the grill,” Mr. Bernstein said.

When the tank is hooked up to the grill and is ready for use, Mr. Bernstein said to never light the grill with the lid closed.

“Gas can build up inside the grill. Then when you light it, it can literally blow up,” he said. “The grill should be open, the tank valve should be open. Turn on the one burner with the ignition and push the button sparker or flameless clicker, or even use a match. Just be careful. If the grill doesn’t light immediately, turn everything off and let it sit for a few minutes.”

Since propane gas is heavier than air, it will settle at the bottom of the grill and when it does wind up lighting, it’ll flash and explode, he said.

“If your grill catches fire, that’s a 9-1-1 call,” he said. “Burning outside of the area of the controls, that’s a problem and you should call 9-1-1.”

If the tank is leaking while everything else is off and the tank is just sitting there, he said, the fire department can come and vent some of the propane or take other actions.

When grilling, the grill should not be up against the house and people should not be grilling in the garage or in the house, he said.

“In bad weather, don’t grill in your garage. That’s a bad thing to do. Now you have propane burning in your house. Grills give off carbon monoxide,” he said.

Grills can also heat up to between 500 and 800 degrees, so children should be supervised when using the grill or around the grill, said Mr. Bernstein.

“When done grilling, shut the tank off,” he said.

Charcoal grills

If using a charcoal grill, use either plain or pretreated charcoal. The pretreated charcoal has ignition fluid already on it, said Mr. Bernstein.

“Either way, once you spray your lighter fluid, or just ignite the coals, sometimes you won’t see the flames right away. You have to wait a few minutes to see if the charcoal starts turning white around the edges,” he said.

“Never spray charcoal lighter fluid after you’ve lit the fire. The fire will come right back up the stream,” said Mr. Bernstein.

If using the pretreated charcoal, wait until the coals turn white before cooking so the lighter fluid is burned off, he said.

When done with grilling, wait until the ashes are completely cold before disposing of them,  Mr. Bernstein said.

“Don’t dump the ashes [outside] around your house. A couple of hot embers can start a fire,” he said.

Campfires

Having a small, controlled fire in a fire pit in the backyard is OK, said Mr. Bernstein.

“There really is not a problem with that,” he said.

A good idea, though, is to call dispatch and let them know if there will be a fire in the yard, he said.

“The other night in the Georgetown area we got a call of smoke in the area. We drove around and tried to figure out where it was coming from. It had that wood smell but we didn’t know if it was a house or brush fire — it was just a small campfire,” said Mr. Bernstein.

Before starting any type of campfire, people should check the burning index, he said.

“When the burn index is high, don’t have a fire. One ember can start a brush fire or a fire in your neighbor’s yard or even set the house on fire when it’s that hot and dry,” said Mr. Bernstein.

The burn index may be found by going to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection website at CT.gov/deep.

When having a small fire, always have a hose handy or buckets of water, said Mr. Bernstein.

“Make sure the fire is out and when you’re done, don’t leave it burning,” he said. “An unattended fire can give off embers in the middle of the night and start a fire. You can also be charged for reckless burning if not tending to it.

“Small fires on a decent night when it’s not too dry, that’s OK. You cannot burn construction debris, leaves or garbage,” he added.

Fireworks

The only legal fireworks in Connecticut are sparklers and fireworks that give off showers of sparks, said Mr. Bernstein.

“Those little poppers are illegal. The black snakes that you light and they expand are illegal. Anything that goes aerial is illegal. Any fireworks bought out of state are illegal. Fireworks are dangerous. If you buy those large things out of state and just set them up in your backyard, an accident is waiting to happen,” he said.

Mr. Bernstein said he’s responded to a house fire in the Georgetown area that was the result of burnt out fireworks being put in a bag next to the house and catching fire.

Caution should be taken when dealing with any fireworks, he said. “Even sparklers — those metal rods get extremely hot for a little bit afterward and you can get burned,” he said.

When dealing with any type of fire this summer — grilling, fireworks, campfires — “I hope everyone is safe and that we don’t have to show up at your house,” said Mr. Bernstein.

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