Staying safe during sizzling summer

14 Jul 2009 | Sgt. T.D. Smith

With the onset of summer, the heat is turning up and not just in the weather. Outdoor grilling is a popular summer pastime, but there are some important safety measures to keep in mind.

 One such thing to think about is the correct operation of grills, as well as being cautious if the equipment seems to be malfunctioning. There are safe ways of working with these if they are being problematic.

“Sometimes gas grills won’t start up on the first try,” said Eric Quinn, a safety specialist with base safety. “You don’t want to keep trying to light it over and over again, because it could explode or cause a fire. You should wait at least five minutes inbetween attempts to light the grill, as this allows the gas to dissipate.”

If you are unable to get the gas grill fired up or you can’t seem to get the coals going, then it might be a good idea to have a back up plan or an alternative cooking method when grilling away from home,. Have a restaurant in mind or bring foods you can eat without cooking, like beanie weenies or spam.

Once you do get the gas going, remember it can also pose a fire danger, so becoming familiar with the equipment can be helpful in a few ways. It can enhance the grilling experience, improve your culinary skills and help decrease operator error.

You might be borrowing a grill or helping a friend cookout on his grill and a fire ignites. Knowing how to turn off the propane bottle is a good way to control a gas-grill fire, said Glenn Zurek, assistant chief with the Fire Prevention office. The food on the grill might still be on fire, so it is best to shut the lid, keep an eye on it and let it burn itself out.

Part of being knowledgeable about a gas grill is knowing its manual. If a recent grill purchase didn’t come completely assembled, you may want to seek the professional help in putting it together. Seek the advice and expertise of the sales people where you bought the equipment.

“One minute you’re planning a nice day of barbecuing, and the next thing you know you are going to the hospital,” said Quinn. “If you put together a gas grill, read the caution warnings, because they are definitely there for a reason. If you do something wrong, you could cause an explosion.”

After ensuring the equipment is safe and ready to use, be sure you have everything you need on hand before kicking off a picnic. If you are prone to forget things, or have an impromptu picnic, have the barbeque near a store where you can pick up needed items.

Also, keep meats in the fridge until the grill is fired up and ready to go as, this reduces the risk of food poisoning. Ensure meats are cooked to a proper temperature, which can often be found on the packaging. It’s imperative to get the grill hot enough to get the meat to a minimum safe temperature.

If you forget lighter fluid or run out of propane, you don’t want to use an alternative method of igniting a grill, said Quinn. You never want to use gasoline to light charcoal, and you don’t want to use excessive amounts of lighter fluid.

 Some might opt to use neither gas nor charcoal grill and instead employ a fire pit. When cooking with an open fire, make sure the flames don’t get out of control. Use long tongs as this helps you keep a farther distance from the flames and could help you avoid burns. Make sure the fire is completely out and that the embers have cooled before you leave the pit unattended.

Like a fire pit, grills can cause burns. Grills should also be attended until they have completely cooled to avoid potential hazards.

“Even after you’re done cooking, you should still pay attention to a barbecue. The grill or the coals could still be hot and this causes potential for injury, especially for children.”

Keeping a close eye on what’s cooking, while the grill is still hot, is another good idea, especially if you have pets. Whether you prefer gas flame or a charcoal flavor, Rover may share your tastes in food and you don’t want your pooch to get burned because you weren’t paying attention to the grill. Children are also at risk of accidently getting to close to the barbeque and getting injured.

“Unattended cooking is one of the biggest problems we’ve seen on base,” said Zurek. “You could be out having fun, walk away from the grill and then a dog or a child knocks it over. That could start a fire.”

Knocking over a grill isn’t the only way it poses a fire hazard. The temperature could ignite near by objects, so make sure the area around the grill is free of debris.

“Keep grills away from structures,” said Zurek. “Once the barbecue starts heating up, it can start melting away vinyl siding, which is used on base housing.”

In addition to structure fires, wildfires have been known to start from barbeques. If a fire does start a fire extinguisher is the best way to put it out and prevent the fire from spreading.

“If a coal grill catches fire you may be tempted to throw water on it, but that will actually fan the flames,” said Zurek. “Water does the opposite of what you think it will do, so it is best to use a fire extinguisher.”

This summer, when gearing up to “throw some shrimp on the barbie,” keep in mind the hazards that could occur. Take proper precautions when firing up the grills and stay safe.