Incident Overview

The resident of a four-story apartment building started a propane gas grill in preparation for cooking on his third floor balcony. As he waited for the grill to warm up, he received a phone call, and after five minutes, shut off the grill.

When he returned 45 minutes later, he restarted the grill using a match when the grill’s igniter did not work. Once the fire was going, he noticed flames near the neck of the propane cylinder. Although he immediately turned the burners off, the fire continued to burn at the cylinder.

The man called 911 to report the fire, then returned to the balcony to find the fire had spread to plastic furniture near the grill. The man tried to control the fire, but the flames continued to spread, so he closed the sliding glass door to the balcony and left the apartment.

On the way out, he told occupants of the building that he met in the stairwell about the fire, and they activated the local fire alarm using a pull station. Residents began to evacuate the building.

Upon arrival at the scene the Incident Commander finds a four story wood frame (Type V) constructed building with fire showing from the balcony of the third floor of the building. About 50 people are in front of the building.

From the street level the Incident Commander can see that the balcony door has broken and fire is leaping upward and contacting the balcony above it. Plastic furniture on the forth floor balcony above is catching fire. The 20 pound propane cylinder is venting forcefully and continuously.





Summary of Cylinder Construction Features

Most propane barbecue gas grills utilize the standard portable 20 pound propane cylinder. They are typically refilled at cylinder filling stations and transported home and hooked up by the user.

The 20 pound class cylinder is usually of two or three piece welded steel construction. Cylinders generally have one fitting welded in the service end of the cylinder. The fitting is threaded to a female NPT and is raised above the surface of the cylinder. One combination service valve and pressure relief valve is installed in the fitting.





Incident Action Plan

Tactical Objectives

  1. Cool the propane cylinder from a safe location to prevent tank failure.

  2. Prevent extension of the fire from the third floor balcony to the interior of the third floor apartment and/or to the forth floor balcony.

Methods of Extinguishment

A hoseline or deck gun should be immediately placed in service at the street level and directed onto the third floor balcony to cool the venting 20 pound propane cylinder. The objective is to cool the propane cylinder to prevent rupture, not to attack the main body of the fire. Caution must be used not to blow the fire into the interior of the apartment through the patio door.

Hoselines should be stretched to the interior of the building via the stairway. The fire should be attacked from inside the 3rd floor apartment. Crews should check for extension to the 4th floor and the loft area. The propane tank should continue to be cooled until after the fire is extinguished.





Additional Factors

Additional Factors to Consider for this Operation Include:

  1. Obviously there are other ways to attack a similar fire based on actual fire conditions and building construction. Regardless of the method used, special caution must be exercised to minimize the exposure of firefighters making the attack.Several serious fires have occurred in apartment buildings of wooden construction involving propane gas grill fires where fire rapidly extended upward from balcony to balcony until it reached the roof. Many jurisdictions prohibit propane or charcoal grills on wooden balconies. See page 18 of the July/August 2000 issue of NFPA Fire Journal for a case study.

  2. The propane cylinder should be removed from the building and properly disposed of by a propane dealer. Residual propane may still be in the damaged cylinder. The cylinder should be isolated outdoors until the fire investigation has been completed.





 Incident Map

This is a top-perspective view of the incident area. Its purpose is only to get the general idea of the incident and surroundings.

 Incident Video

In this section, we present an animated version of the incident.