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Summer is the time where most of us dust off the grill from its winter hibernation and invite family and friends to enjoy cool drinks, warm conversation and hot barbecued foods. The Woodbridge Volunteer Fire Department would like to welcome each of you to summer with some grilling facts and helpful safety tips from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA, NFPA.org).
Gas and charcoal grills combined for 900 structure fires and 3,500 outdoor fires in 2002; half of these fires occurred in an enclosed porch or and exterior balcony. Gas grills, which led to two-thirds of the structure fires and over 90% of outdoor fires, have a higher fire risk due to breaks and leaks in the cylinder and cylinder hose. For these grills, propane is the most likely item first ignited. Charcoal grills, which do not burn as clean as gas grills, have a higher risk for un-vented carbon monoxide to accumulate and cause light-headedness, nausea, headaches and, in continued exposure, asphyxiation. Nearby combustibles and unattended food are the leading causes of fires associated with charcoal grills. If a fire does start from a grill, house structure members, trim, wall covering, and plants can quickly become involved and spread a fire.
There are several simple tips that can help you prevent a fire from starting and spreading through your house and property. First, keep your grill well away from siding, railings, and out from under eaves. For the safety of both children and adults, keep yard games well away from your grill and establish a minimum of a 3-foot "safe zone" around the cooking area allowing only the chef to enter. Use long handled grilling tools to keep the chef safe from burns. Remember to periodically remove grease build-up from the drip pan below the grill - accumulation of fats and grease is a prime target for unwanted fire ignition.
For gas grills, check the tank and hose at the beginning of each year. Your tank should have no large dents, deep scratches, or rust wear and the value stem should be firmly in place on top of the cylinder. Use a tank whose design has been tested by an independent testing laboratory like Underwriters Laboratories. For the cylinder hose, there should be no obvious cracks in the hose or the hose connections. To test for smaller leaks, apply a light soap and water solution to the hose and open the cylinder gas flow - if you see any bubbles being formed and accumulating then you have a leak. Once the grill is connected, if you detect a leak but there is no flame, turn off the tank and grill. If the leak stops, have the grill serviced by a professional. If the leak does not stop, call 911 for the fire department. When you have the grill on, you should not smell any propane after the initial lighting as all of the propane will be consumed in flames. If the grill is lit and you still smell propane, get everyone away from the grill and call 911 - do not attempt to move the grill as the leak could get worse and cause fire or explosion.
For charcoal grills, use a proper starter fluid (not gasoline or kerosene). Keep this out of reach of children and away from any heat source, including the grill once it has been lit. Finally, do not add starter fluid to an existing fire!
The volunteers at your fire department wish you a safe and happy summer grilling season. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Fire Marshall Michael Cavanaugh at 389-3445.
We've all been taught that carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas which makes it the "silent killer" in our homes. Why is that? Where does it come from? What are symptoms of CO poisoning? What can be done to ensure that we are not caught off guard? Here are some answers from the Woodbridge Volunteer Fire Department.
Carbon monoxide kills because it more readily combines with the hemoglobin in your blood than oxygen - 300 times more readily. And it is a strong bond that does not allow oxygen to push the carbon monoxide out of the way. Thus, when people die of carbon monoxide poisoning they are essentially suffocating. But why so "silent"? Since the gas has no odor, can not be seen or tasted, and since the poisoning can happen slowly as the gas accumulates in a room, it can go unnoticed until it is too late. This poisonous gas is slightly lighter than air and usually present in warm air currents so it will rise throughout the house slowly accumulating to the highest points - upstairs where most of our bedrooms are.
Carbon monoxide is one of the few gases produced at any fire, be it within a furnace (oil or natural gas), fireplace, wood burning stove, kerosene heater, emergency generator, etc. Thus, the potential for the gas to accumulate is in all of our homes. Generally it is not a problem because our heating systems are designed to vent this gas through our chimneys and out of the house. When there is a leak in the exhaust system or a flue is closed before a fire is completely burned out and cool, carbon monoxide starts to accumulate in the house and rise.
Carbon monoxide does have several keys symptoms that are easy to overlook because they are so common. Poisoning will start as a mild headache that becomes steadily more severe combined with lightheadedness and nausea. Confusion and drowsiness follow. If drowsiness becomes sleep and the source of the poisoning has not been found, eliminated, and vented from the house, death will follow. The elderly and small children who spend most of their time inside are most at risk.
There are two easy steps to minimize the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning. The first is to have your heating systems checked and serviced yearly. This includes both the furnace and any fireplaces or wood burning stoves you may have. A furnace in good operating condition will burn cleaner and having a professional inspect exhaust systems can point out cracks or leaks. Cleaned stoves and chimneys all exhaust to freely escape the house and reduce the chance for chimney fires. The second way to reduce carbon monoxide poisoning is to install CO detectors. These can either be hardwired into a house alarm system or be stand alone units. If the latter, choose a detector that has been independently tested by a known third-party like United Laboratories (UL). CO detectors are available at all major retailers. You may wish to use a detector that plugs into an outlet and has a battery backup so you need to worry less about changing batteries. A detector should be placed where it can be heard at night while you are asleep. If you purchase just one detector, at the top of the stairwell on the ceiling near the bedrooms is a good place to start.
If a CO detector goes into alarm mode follow the manufacturer's instructions, call the fire department, and evacuate everyone from the home. Leave windows and doors closed as this will help the fire department determine the source of the leak.
An additional point to note: most carbon monoxide detectors only detect the presence of carbon monoxide and provide no warning of smoke in the house. Thus it is important to continue to maintain all of your smoke detectors.
If you have any questions regarding fire safety, please do not hesitate to call Woodbridge Fire Marshal Mike Cavanagh at 203-389-3445.