With Memorial Day cookouts approaching, the Division of the Fire Marshal, Office of Research Services, would like to share a few tips that will make using your propane barbecue grill a fire-safe and enjoyable experience. More than 200,000 propane fueled barbecue grills are purchased by Americans every year and, on most nice, summer days, some four million gas barbecues are in use in the United States. Because they are easy to use, homeowners sometimes take these appliances for granted. Many times gas grills are not inspected, maintained, used and/or stored in a safe and appropriate fashion. Propane fueled barbecues are quick to light, easy to control, fast and practical. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and with various accessories. However, they all have two things in common - they must be used in a safe manner and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations. CHECKING AND MAINTAINING YOUR BARBECUE When assembling a new unit, follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully. When in doubt, take it back to the store or dealer, or call a qualified propane service technician. On all barbecues, make certain the burner ports are free of rust or dirt, and that the burner gas supply throat (the tube connected to the burner) is free of dust, dirt or cobwebs. Leak test all the fittings that run from the propane tank to the barbecue. To do this, prepare a solution of dishwashing detergent and water (one cup of water with a tablespoon of detergent). With the barbecue connected to the propane cylinder (make sure the barbecue valve is turned off), turn on the propane tank cylinder valve. Spray the soapy solution generously over all hose connections and fittings, and all over the hose. If bubbles appear and become larger or more numerous - you have a leak. Never check for leaks with an open flame. If you discover a leak, turn off the propane cylinder valve and replace the hose and fitting or have them checked and repaired by a qualified service technician. Also, on may gas grills, the nozzle type fitting on the hose which is threaded into the propane cylinder, has a rubber "O" ring on the end. If you have this type of barbecue, check that ring every time you connect the hose fitting to a propane cylinder, and replace the "O" ring if it appears cracked, torn or is losing its shape. LIGHTING AND STORING YOUR BARBECUE When lighting a gas barbecue without a built-in 'igniter,' have the match or lighter already burning and the lid of the grill open before you turn on the barbecue gas control valve. Also, never move the barbecue after it has been lit. When you are finished cooking, turn off both the barbecue gas control valve(s) and the propane cylinder valve. Always use gas grills outside - never in a house or garage and do not use a gas grill on a combustible surface such as a wood deck. Store, transport and use propane cylinders only in the upright, vertical position. When transporting a cylinder in a vehicle, secure it in an upright position, making certain it will not tip over, and leave your trunk or vehicle windows open. Whenever a propane cylinder is not attached to an appliance, the cylinder valve must be closed and plugged with a POL (Put On Left/Counterclockwise) plastic plug. Check the tank collar for the date of manufacture or the latest inspection. All propane tanks must be inspected and re-certified every 10 years. Treat empty propane tanks with the same respect as full ones. Always avoid dropping and/or rough handling of a propane tank and keep it away from sparks or open flames. Prior to using an open flame barbecue on either the NIH Bethesda campus or the NIHAC Poolesville campus, please obtain a "Burn" Permit by dialing 301-496-0414.
If you have any questions regarding fire-safety issues for gas fueled barbecue grills, please contact the Division of the Fire Marshal, Office of Research Services at 301-496-0487.