Critical Days of Summer week 11: In the line of fire

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- Have you ever used a grill or eaten grilled food? Sure you have, who hasn't?

For centuries, a preferred method of cooking has been to grill over an open flame. The Declaration of Independence names certain unalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; in which nothing makes some happier than a full stomach and having a barbecue with friends and family. However, one surefire way to spoil your relaxing day of peace and tranquility is to disregard grilling safety.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, from 2007 to 2011, there was an annual average of 8,600 home fires involved with grilling, including 7,200 incidents with gas grills and 1,400 with charcoal. These fires caused on average 10 deaths, 140 injuries and $96 million in property damage per year. The best way to avoid becoming one of these undesirable statistics is to remember that grills use fire, which can be unforgiving. Remembering the following grill safety tips may save property, or more importantly, a life.

It might seem common sense, but only use propane and charcoal grills outside. In the past, I personally have erroneously violated this instruction because of rain or cold weather. Putting the grill in the garage or under the overhang of the house can pose fire safety concerns. When grilling, the grill should be placed well away from the home, deck railing, out from under eaves or overhangs, and away from branches. Make sure children and pets are kept at least three feet away from a hot grill and do not leave the grill unattended for significant amounts of time. Lastly, proper maintenance and cleaning will not only extend the life of your grill, but can also keep grease and fat from building up. Grease and fat are highly flammable and can be hard to extinguish if ignited.

There are several differences in propane and charcoal grills, from the way they light to the way the food tastes. There are also different safety concerns with each.

Propane grills are great for consistency in cooking and ease of lighting. The most dangerous issue with propane grills is gas leaks. Each year before using the propane grill for the first time, both the propane tank and hose from the tank to the grill need to be checked for leaks. To do this, apply soapy water to the hose and tank. Continuous bubbling occurring from any particular spot indicates a gas leak. If you smell gas or the bubble test indicates a leak, turn off the grill and propane tank. If the leak then stops, get the grill serviced by a professional. If the leak does not stop at the point of turning off the grill or tank, call the fire department. If the flame goes out when cooking, turn off the grill and tank for 15 minutes and then try to re-ignite. Lastly, in order to save your eyebrows, make sure the grill lid is open when lighting it.

Charcoal grills are slightly different and take a little more patience than a propane grill. The most dangerous issue with charcoal grills is getting them lit. Only use lighter fluid designated for charcoal grills and keep the fluid container away from the heat source. Also, make sure to keep the fluid away from children or those who may act like children around fire. Once the coals have been lit, many times the coals will go out and it appears they are not heating. This is most likely not the case, as they are smoldering. Once the coals turn grey, they are ready for use to cook with. After the coals have been lit, resist the urge to use more lighter fluid unless the coals are obviously not burning. Lastly, after using the charcoal grill, make sure the coals are completely cool before disposing them inside a metal container.

Following these tips will ensure a safe grilling environment while you are enjoying the remaining days of summer and into fall.