Experts offer caution for propane users
FINGER LAKES--As the summer weather turns to fall, some people will be switching from using propane to fire their grills to using it to heat their homes. When it comes to being an average propane user at home, area professionals offer several pointers for residents to be safety conscious.
Kerry Fitzgerald of NORCO Propane Energy Services was one of the instructors at last week's three-day propane safety training course for firefighters at the New York State Academy of Fire Science in Montour Falls. Fitzgerald noted he has been in the propane industry for 40 years and has been involved in safety training for nearly 30 of those years. He and representatives from the Propane Education and Research Council (PERC) said keeping a full tank of gas, leaving repairs to professionals and taking proper grilling precautions can prevent many otherwise avoidable accidents.
Do not run out of gas
The safety officials warned against running out of gas, as safety hazards such as fire or explosion could result. Fitzgerald provided information detailing the risks of a gas leak if an appliance valve is left open when the propane supply runs out. This could cause a potential leak when the system is recharged with propane.
Fitzgerald also noted any pilot lights on appliances will go out when a person runs out of gas, adding it can be extremely dangerous if not handled properly. A leak check is required as well by a qualified service technician prior to turning the gas back on. When a tank runs out of gas, air and moisture can often cause rust buildup within the tank, which can decrease the concentration of the odor of propane making it harder to smell.
Stuart Flatow, PERC's vice president for safety and training, added a pressure test must be conducted once a tank runs out of gas in order to make sure there is no leak or any air in the line. He said while it may cost a few additional dollars to have a professional inspect the lines, it is a necessary step to ensure the equipment is safe for use once the tank is refilled.
Do not DIY
PERC spokesman J.J. McCoy spoke about the importance of not attempting propane work without a professional, adding there is an "anti-DIY" (do it yourself) campaign when it comes to home repairs.
"Despite the popularity of home improvement, we strongly encourage homeowners not to do it," McCoy said. "Do not cut corners. Get a licensed professional."
Fitzgerald noted one of the most important things a homeowner can do when it comes to propane safety is to get an annual inspection by a trained professional. Flatow noted people are at a greater risk of having an incident if they attempt to install a propane appliance themselves, adding those without the proper training may not do things like use the appropriate hose for the pressure.
"People don't fix things until they break," Fitzgerald said, adding accidents can often happen as a result of someone attempting to work on their gas system themselves without knowing what they are doing. He noted if any changes are made to a gas system, they should be done by a trained professional, adding the gas supplier should also be notified to inspect the changes.
There are still steps late-season grillers can take to make sure their barbecues go off without a hitch. Flatow said due to the sheer popularity of propane grills --between 40 to 60 million in the country -- they see the most propane accidents being grill related. He said grillers should remember to keep the lid open when they ignite their grill, as the gas could potentially build up prior to ignition. Flatow added grills must be kept at least five feet away from any structure, and it is important to inspect the grill's gas lines and equipment for degradation if it sits dormant and unused for too long.
When transporting a newly filled tank in the car, Flatow noted it is "critically important" to keep the cylinder in an upright, stable position in the car. He said if a cylinder rolls over gas can escape and potentially cause accidents. Flatow noted tanks should be removed from a car immediately as well, adding increasing temperatures inside a car may cause pressure to increase and lead to accidents.
McCoy provided additional grilling safety tips, including using a soapy water solution to check the connections for leaks following every cylinder replacement. If the flame goes out, grillers are advised to turn off the gas, keep the lid open and wait at least 15 minutes before relighting.
While Fitzgerald said he participates in several propane safety training demonstrations for first responders, he noted there are not currently any safety seminars for customers and residents. He encouraged homeowners who are interested in learning more about propane safety to visit www.propanecouncil.org/safety-and-training/.