GRILLING [FIRE] SAFETY
Summertime finally arrived, no need to explain; get out the grill and clear out the debris and animal nests that accumulated during the winter months. Whether you are using a liquid gas- fired grill or the traditional charcoal type, they must be treated with care and respect. The liquefied gas, or in some instances natural gas grills have different inherent qualities. Liquefied gas [propane or butane] is heavier than air and will accumulate at low areas if allowed to do so. It is a derivative or by-product of the “cracking” oil-refining process and has similar qualities of gasoline only in a compressed gaseous-liquid state. It is stored in a liquid state under pressure until it is used whereas it is converted to a gaseous form and ignited. The flame temperature is approximately 1400 degrees F (similar to a kitchen gas-range).
Some residences have natural gas-fueled Bar-B-Q grills on the patio and in some instances built into the kitchen stove. These “indoor-grills” must be vented to the outside (refer to NFPA 96). Natural gas is lighter than air and will “drift” towards the higher areas, so will its products-of -combustion (vapors).
Charcoal is a solid organic [vegetable] compound typically derived from processed wood. This fuel is ignited, usually by applying a combustible liquid (charcoal lighter only), and permitted to degrade until it turns a greyish-color and the food is ready to be cooked. This degrading process is referred to as pyrolysis. As these fuels “burn”, actually they are decomposing and generating heat. The temperature of the decomposing charcoal is approximately 800 degrees F depending on the quality and age. Charcoal must NEVER be used indoors. Products of combustion, from the burning charcoal, primarily CO (carbon monoxide) will displace the necessary oxygen (of which humans require 19-21% to sustain life) causing asphyxiation and ultimately death.
Regardless of which scenario your life-style fits into, you have created or caused a fire. Fire is commonly and professionally, defined as the rapid oxidation of a combustible material with the evolution of heat and light in varying degrees. This is the fire triangle; [now referred to as the fire-tetrahedron] the combining of heat (ignition source), oxygen, fuel and the uninhibited chemical chain reaction that bonds it all together and creates fire. (refer to NFPA 921)
Grilling is fun, but the process must be respected, you have created a fire situation. Always treat your fire with respect. Always stay with your cooking process and watch it. Make certain the grill is in the open area away from any and all combustibles, wood porches, overhanging roofs, railings, furniture, and house siding. Insist that all guests are kept away, 36” is a recommended distance; and especially children, who must be supervised at all times. This is not a playground. You are responsible for their safety; you are in-charge. Humans (skin) begin to decompose at approximately 110 degrees F (sunburn). Clothing ignites at low temperatures depending on the material. If ignition of clothing should occur, STOP (immediately), Drop (to-the-ground) and Roll, over-and-over (back and forth) until the fire is extinguished and you do not feel any heat. Place your hands over your face and mouth, to prevent inhaling hot fire-gases. And remember, the first aid for a burn is cool water, and seek medical attention if you deem it necessary. Never apply anything onto a burn that may have to be removed at the emergency room; that will hurt a lot. I wish you a fire-safe and incident-free summer.
NOTE: Always read the manufacturer’s instructions on safe use, maintenance and storing for the next time; use common sense at all times.
Ed Knight is a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI/CFII) and a fire instructor; a retired municipal assistant fire marshal, forensic investigator having investigated several thousand fires and testified over 60 times throughout the United States and several foreign countries. He is Chairman of the Live Burn Facility, Pequea Lane, Lancaster, PA.