“Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer,” said State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey. “Many people are anticipating activities with family and friends, and getting their yards and grills ready for gatherings. Take a few minutes for safety and have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend.”
Between 2014 and 2018, Massachusetts fire departments responded to 474 fires involving grills, hibachis, and barbecues. These fires caused 19 civilian injuries, seven firefighter injuries, and $3.8 million in property damage. Last year, a terrible house fire started in Duxbury when the grill was used right against the side of the house.
State Fire Marshal Ostroskey offered these safety tips for grilling safety:
• Always grill outdoors.
• Place grills 10-feet away from the house and deck railings. Make sure grills are not under eaves or overhanging branches.
• You should not use a gas or charcoal grill on any porch or balcony.
• Gas grills can be used on first floor decks or patios, only if there is an outdoor stairway to the ground, or it is at ground level.
• Grills cannot be used indoors or on fire escapes.
• Keep all matches, lighters and lighter fluid away from children.
• Keep children and pets three feet away from grills. Create a circle of safety. Children should never play near grills.
On June 6, 2018, the Millbury Fire Department responded to a suppertime grill fire. The grill ignited nearby furniture on the porch. Damages were estimated at $20,000. The home had no fire sprinklers.
On July 11, 2018, shortly after midnight, the Ayer Fire Department responded to an outside grill fire. The homeowner had left the grill on at around 9 p.m. to clean it but forgot to shut it off later. The heat from the grill ignited the nearby wood railings on the deck and caused $26,000 in damage. The home had no fire sprinklers.
On Aug. 19, 2018, the Scituate Fire Department responded to a grill fire on the back deck of a single family home. Working smoke alarms alerted the residents. Damages were estimated at $15,000. The home had no fire sprinklers.
Propane is the most common grilling fuel, but many people use charcoal grills. Here are some charcoal grill safety tips:
• Only use charcoal starter fluid. Do not use gasoline or kerosene to start a fire in a grill.
• Never add lighter fluid to burning briquettes or hot coals. Doing so may cause a flash fire and result in serious burn injuries.
• Charcoal briquettes give off carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that can be deadly. Always use charcoal grills in a well-ventilated area. Never use charcoal grills indoors.
• For proper disposal of grill ashes, allow the coals to burn out completely and then cool for 48 hours before disposal.
• If you must dispose of ashes before they are completely cooled, thoroughly soak them in water before putting them in a metal container.
Gasoline and Lawnmowers
State Fire Marshal Ostroskey said, “Is your teenager finally old enough to mow the lawn? Then be sure to discuss gasoline safety at the same time; talk about why it is important to let the engine cool before refueling.” Gasoline vapors are highly flammable and refueling a hot motor can ignited them. Gasoline spilled onto clothing can give off vapors until completely dry and be ignited by any heat source. Gasoline vapors can travel a long distance to find an ignition source, which is why gasoline cannot be stored inside the house. In the past five years (2014-2018), 335 lawn mower fires caused one civilian death, four civilian injuries, two fire service injuries and an estimated dollar loss of $1.6 million.
• Store gasoline outside only in approved containers.
• Keep gasoline away from all heat sources, such as smoking materials, pilot lights, campfires, and grills.
• Fill a cooled lawn mower. Never refill while it is hot.
• Keep hands and feet away from a mower while it is running.
On April 24, 2017, at 9:05 a.m., the East Bridgewater Fire Department was dispatched to a fatal fire in a single-family home. The victim, an 86-year old man was working on his lawn tractor when it caught fire and spread to his clothes and the deck. The building did not have any sprinklers and damages were estimated to be $242,400.
On May 18, 2017, gasoline vapors ignited when a man attempted to refuel a commercial riding lawn mower in Framingham. The mower was damaged and he suffered second-degree burns to his left arm.
Gasoline and Outdoor Fires
“Never use gasoline to start a campfire or add it to any indoor or outdoor fire,” said Ostroskey. “We have had so many injuries this year from people mishandling gasoline and other flammable liquids.” In the past five years, Massachusetts hospitals have reported treating 132 people with serious burn injuries from gasoline. On March 26, 2019, there were two terrible incidents in different communities when gasoline was added to outdoor fires causing terrible injuries.
In Ware, four young adults were injured at a birthday party when one of them added a flammable liquid to an outside burn barrel. Two were life-flighted to a Boston hospital; one was taken to a Worcester hospital, and one was treated at a local hospital.
In West Springfield, a man was seriously injured after pouring gasoline into a fire pit.
Smoking was the leading cause of fire deaths in Massachusetts last year, and there have been many fires this spring from improperly discarded smoking materials on porches and in backyards. These fires can smolder undetected for a long time and when they erupt into flames, travel fast. If they start on the exterior of the building, these fires can get a strong hold before the interior smoke alarms start to warn anyone of the danger. If you smoke, put it out, all the way, every time. Extinguish smoking materials in a can with sand or water, not in the mulch, leaves, grass, in a potted plant or other container that can catch fire. Don’t snub them out on the porch railing or stairs.
Smoking materials caused a spring 2018 Chelsea fire that started on a back porch and consumed three triple-deckers leaving a dozen people homeless.
A late March 2019 fire displaced 20 from a Douglas apartment building started by a cigarette tossed into dry mulch.
An April 3, 2019 fire destroyed a Peabody manufactured home. It was started by smoking materials discarded into dried leaves.
An April 27, 2019 fire in Newton killed a 62-year old man and injured an elderly woman. The fire was started by smoking materials underneath the exterior deck.
Marshal Ostroskey reminds us that, “The possession and use of all fireworks by private citizens is illegal in Massachusetts.” This includes sparklers, party poppers, snappers, firecrackers and cherry bombs, and more. “Leave fireworks to the professionals, and enjoy supervised displays,” he said. “It is illegal to purchase fireworks in another state and transport them to Massachusetts,” he added. Last summer, there were many fires, amputations and burn injuries from illegal fireworks in Massachusetts.
A 22-year old man was seriously injured when roman candles were set off inside an Amherst apartment.
A 22-year old was injured in Gloucester playing with sparklers.
A 10-year old boy was injured by illegal fireworks at a Marshfield beach on July 3, 2018. He was an innocent by-stander.
A man lost part of his hand when a firework he was holding exploded. The explosion occurred in a Mansfield MBTA parking lot.
The Tewksbury Fire Department provided emergency medical care to a man who lost a part of every finger on his right hand when a firework he was holding exploded.
A 25-year old Brockton man suffered injuries to his left hand when a “cherry bomb” exploded.
A 22-year old Kingston man suffered injuries to his hands, face and stomach from a firework.
In the past decade (2009-2018), there have been 800 major fires and explosions involving illegal fireworks in Massachusetts. These incidents resulted in 12 civilian injuries, 39 fire service injuries and an estimated dollar loss of $2.5 million.
On June 25, 2018, people shooting fireworks in the street started a fire in a 6-unit Lynn apartment building. One ricocheted to the second floor porch and ignited several items. The fire spread to the rest of the second floor and to the third floor. Thirty-four firefighters were injured at this fire.
Burn First Aid
• Stop, Drop, Cover and Roll to extinguish a clothing fire.
• Cool a burn. For minor burns, run cool water over the burn immediately.
• Seek emergency medical help immediately for more serious burns. Call 9-1-1.
• Use sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection from both UVB and UVA to avoid sunburn and skin damage that can lead to skin cancer.