The melting point

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Clifton Pegee
  • 49th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron training manager
The Fourth of July is a time of great celebration. People have a jubilant time with friends and family, enjoying good food and time off from work.

Just before Independence Day weekend, we always get the safety briefing about not drinking and driving, being a wingman, and handling fireworks safely.

However, you rarely hear any type of briefings about grill safety. A grilling incident that happened to me during a past Fourth of July weekend almost cost me my life.

I was cooking using a charcoal and a gas grill. I was using the gas grill for hamburgers and bratwursts, and I was using the charcoal grill for ribs. The two grills were evenly spaced out; a configuration I often use to expedite the cooking process when I have large gatherings.

The gas grill was given to me by some friends who were making a permanent change of station move. Although it was old, I had cleaned it out when I first got it and made sure it worked properly. In fact, before that day, I had used it several times without any problems.

I was down to the last six burgers (The charcoal grill was in cool down) and I turned off a couple of the burners on the gas grill. I went inside the house to mingle with the guests and get something to drink.

The grill was left unattended for less than five minutes, but when I returned to flip the burgers, I noticed that the can of grilling spray on the right side of the grill was melted. The oil inside the spray can had leaked out and was all over the ground. The container of seasoning salt had melted as well.

I opened the lid of the grill and I immediately felt an intensive heat I had never felt before. As the lid went into the open position, the lid came off at the left attachment point and fell over the back with the right attachment point barely holding the lid.

I then turned off all the burners. The burgers were charcoal black - to the point where some of them were turning into ash. I opened the bottom compartment and nearly burned myself trying to turn off the gas. I then noticed the drip pan above the gas tank was on fire. I immediately took my garden hose and lightly sprayed water to put the fire out.

It then dawned on me that this could have been a fatal accident since my gas grill was right next to the outside window of my den area.

My friend stopped me from disconnecting the gas; as he said that the gas bottle was still pressurized and to wait until the grill has completely cooled down to remove it.

How did this happen? I have left salt shakers and other things on the sides of the gas grill before and they never burned up. Perhaps when the spray leaked it ran down into the gas grill augmenting the flames. Maybe the thermometer on the gas-grill lid was broken, giving me a wrong indication.

The good news is the crisis was averted with some quick thinking and concentrated action. The guests didn't even know what had happened and I didn't tell them - to prevent panic. It also motivated me to write about the incident, so the same thing or something worse doesn't happen when you use a gas grill.

If you use a gas grill or plan to buy one, here are some safety tips to contemplate:

· Make sure the thermometer on the grill reads properly and that the grill has a safety bypass to prevent overheating. Most newer gas grills have this feature, older ones like mine may not.

· Check the rubber gas line for leaks, cuts or breakage. You should also do this for the gas bottle as well. This is imperative when dealing with older or used gas grills. If you condemn your gas grill, make sure to cut the line so others will not be able use it. If you suspect leakage, do not commit an action that would create a spark or flame!

· Ever so often, take out the actual grills and clean them. Inspect the gas ports and ensure there is no type of blockage.

· For any type of outdoor grill, have a fire extinguisher nearby. Grill flames can quickly spiral out of control, becoming a mini inferno.

· Wear appropriate clothing and personal protective equipment, such as fire resistant gloves, safety glasses and goggles. It will save your life and prevent injury, especially if you have to respond to a grill fire.

Hopefully this has been a reminder of how dangerous gas grills can be. Remember that accidents can strike at any time and do not discriminate. Let us all enjoy the summer with great food, great company, and great safety awareness.