Inspect equipment, surroundings before firing up the grill

By: Samantha Shriber | C&G Newspapers | Published July 19, 2017

 Keeping grills clean — both the grates and the trays below them — is another important practice, and one should not dispose of charcoal until it has cooled completely.

Keeping grills clean — both the grates and the trays below them — is another important practice, and one should not dispose of charcoal until it has cooled completely.

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METRO DETROIT — Summertime brings with it outdoor cookouts and giving in to your barbecue cravings. 

Barbecue season also means it is a good time to review the hazards of firing up a grill, and how to avoid them. Flare-ups and grease fires are both outcomes that can occur from operator error and a lack of knowledge when grilling. 

West Bloomfield Township Fire Marshal Byron Turnquist said that grills must be kept at least 10 feet away from any structure or combustible item, such as a piece of backyard furniture or litter. 

“An everyday mistake that people make with grills is having them a little too close to the house, or on a wooden deck,” said Firefighter Specialist Sundee Harland, of the Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety Department. “Even I’m guilty of this.” 

Having a grill alongside vinyl paneling on top of a combustible platform can create an unpredictable setting, Harland said.

Battalion Chief Andy Houde, of the Harrison Township Fire Department, comes across  complaints about grills breaking balcony and multi-family residency prohibitions, he said. 

Metro Tower Apartments, 26450 Crocker Blvd. in Harrison Township, does feature concrete balconies that authorize grill use.

“But even then it’s under strict regulations,” Houde said. “You can have a gas grill, but it can only have a 1-pound cylinder.” 

Houde said it is best for a grill to be placed on ground-level concrete, away from other objects that may interfere with a safe grilling experience. 

“A lot of people will consider and even try grilling inside a garage,” Harland said, explaining that grills should never be used inside. “In that case you have a hot, built-up object inside a structure, and the risks become bigger.” 

With grilling being an outdoor activity, the need for recurrent inspections is amplified, Turnquist said. 

“A lot of people leave their grills outside, and then the elements create damages,” he said. He suggested periodically checking for spiderwebs and rusting, especially in the burner. 

Harland said to always make sure the regulator to the propane tank is in good condition. She warned that “Mice could have chewed them up during the winter time.” 

Houde said that the main cause of grilling incidents is “not cleaning thoroughly enough.” 

Prior to igniting the grill, make sure that everything is properly installed and that any sort of tubing or connections, the burner, grease trays and the interior are washed out and primed for use.

Harland said that it is important to remove grease and fat from the grill’s trays and grates. 

“It’s not like being in the kitchen, where people tend to clean their pans immediately after cooking,” she said. “People keep them closed up until they are ready to cook something again.” 

Also while using a grill, keep in mind that propane gas tanks can become built up with heat and that charcoal can continue to hold heat for several hours after being used. 

“Not every problem is glowing,” said Turnquist, who recently handled an incident involving the careless disposal of charcoal that had created a fire emergency. 

In a press release June 30 from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, state Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer advised that coals be left to cool completely prior to disposal.

“Remove them into a metal container and away from combustibles,” Turnquist said. 

Other actions to stay out of jeopardy include never leaving a grill unattended and never hesitating to call 911 in light of an emergency, Turnquist said.

“It’s just like using a kitchen. Never leave your cooking appliance alone,” he said. “And in the case of an incident, call 911 immediately to get the problem disposed of quickly and properly.”