Connecticut mom and well-known ESPN sports anchor Hannah Storm was making dinner for her kids on her backyard grill.
"She lit the grill and then closed the cover and the wind blew" the flame out, says Lorraine Carli of the National Fire Protection Association, allowing gas to pool at the bottom of the unit. "When she re-lit that, it caused an explosion." Storm faced a wall of fire that scorched her hands and face, causing the loss of her eyebrows and lashes and second degree burns. This shocking accident last year reinforced the need for safety precautions around grills, especially during these peak summer months.
"The big message here is to shut the tank off and wait, usually 10 to 15 minutes, for that propane to dissipate before you try to relight the grill," says Carli.
The NFPA, a non-profit organization based in Boston, has been in operation for more than 100 years to assist families with information and education. Before lighting the grill up for the season, the group urges owners to inspect the hose and tank connections fully, ensuring that they are in good working order. Always keep paper towels and food packaging away from the hot cooking device, as well as pets and children. Carli recommends "a kid-free zone of about 3 feet around the grill to make sure that they're safely away, so they don't get burned."
There are not just warnings about propane models. "With charcoal grills, make sure that those ashes are totally out before you dispose of them," says Carli.
Fourth of July celebrations also mean colorful displays in the dark.
"The NFPA has a very strong position against the use of any consumer fireworks because they are so inherently dangerous," says Carli, adding that sparklers, purchased by many parents for use with small children, can ignite clothes and grass. "Sparklers actually burn at about 1,200 degrees." These store-bought fireworks can be especially risky to use after draught conditions, threatening nearby brush. The NFPA recommends families attend professional displays, run by experts trained in pyrotechnics, instead of lighting fireworks themselves. The group has created a website, http://www.sparky.org, to teach kids about good choices.
Storm has filmed a series of Public Service Announcements with the NFPA. While the number of fire injuries has decreased in the last decade, Carli believes this famous woman's story is an important reminder to all of us that frightening situations can still occur.
"Hannah had a very tragic accident but it certainly could have been a lot worse," she says. "We're also fortunate that she's chosen to use this experience to help others prevent something like this from happening." We all look forward to cookouts during the warm weather, but be sure to eliminate backyard distractions and brush-up on proper instructions as the holiday weekend approaches.
For a grill safety checklist, check out http://www.nfpa.org and watch this morning's Fox CT Morning News.