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Fire Marshal: Propane Safety

Fire Marshal: Propane Safety

With the advent of warm weather, residents are preparing their grills and other LP appliances for use. Consumer propane is an efficient and safe fuel for many applications, WHEN IT IS RESPECTED. Propane occurs in nature as a gas, but when under pressure and cooled, it becomes a liquid. As liquid is more compact than gas, propane is stored and transported in a liquid state. When the valve on the pressurized container is opened and the propane reverts to its normal pressure and warms, it again becomes a gas. Although clean burning, propane is a non-renewable fossil fuel like natural gas and oil and it emits water vapor and carbon dioxide. Propane is colorless and odorless so a chemical that smells like rotten eggs is added to make gas leaks easier to detect. It is nontoxic. However, if abused as an inhalant, it can pose a mild asphyxiation risk through oxygen deprivation. Frostbite can occur during rapid expansion of the gas or if skin comes in contact with the liquid. Propane is flammable when mixed with air and can be ignited by flames, electrical sparks and static electricity. The Orange Fire Marshal’s Office suggests these important safety guidelines regarding the care and use of propane. First, become familiar with the smell of propane. Retailers have scratch and sniff cards for this purpose.

If a gas leak is suspected, immediately put out all smoking materials or open flames. Locate and turn off the gas shutoff valve by turning it to the right. Evacuate everyone from the area without using any electric switches, appliances, thermostats or telephones. When at a safe location, call 911 to alert the fire department and/or call your propane supplier. Even if you no longer smell propane, do not open or turn on the supply valve. Do not re-enter the area until a propane or emergency technician indicates that it is safe.

  • NEVER smoke or have any ignition sources, such as spark-producing electrical tools or flames nearby while handling or transporting LP gas or any type of fuel.
  • Keep tanks clean and rust free. Replace any tanks that have excessive rust or damage.
  • NEVER use a damaged cylinder or one that has been in a fire.
  • NEVER dispose of a cylinder by throwing it in the trash. If purchasing another, consider utilizing one of the cylinder exchange programs that are now available at most home improvement centers and other retailers. This program allows the used cylinder to be traded for a new full one for only the cost of the fuel. If not purchasing additional propane, check for local collection sites.
  • Make sure the cylinder valve is closed and the safety plug is in place anytime the tank is not in use or is not attached to an appliance, even if the tank is empty.
  • Each season, before using a tank or outdoor appliance, check for leaks with a “bubble” test. Apply a thick soapy water solution to the connection(s) between the cylinder valve and the regulator outlet. If bubbles are present when the valve is opened, a leak is indicated. Tighten and/or replace the fittings and then re-check. If bubbles still appear, contact a propane retailer.
  • Always transport and store a cylinder in a secure and upright position so it will not fall, shift or roll. Never carry it inside a closed trunk. Have the safety plug in place. Do not delay the trip as the heat in a vehicle may cause the LP gas to expand and release through the relief valve. Immediately remove the tank from the vehicle upon arrival.
  • NEVER store a propane tank indoors. Always store a LP tank outside the home in an area that is shaded to prevent sunlight from expanding the tank pressure and that is protected from the weather. NEVER store it under or near a grill, stove, fireplace or other heat source.
  • DO NOT attempt to modify or repair valves or other cylinder parts. Damage may cause a gas leak. Call a professional.
  • It is recommended that a qualified service technician be called to relight a pilot light that repeatedly goes out or is difficult to light and to check an appliance before it is restarted after a gas leak.
  • When working or digging in the yard, know where gas lines for large storage tanks are located so they are not damaged.
  • Do not store flammable liquids or items such as oil soaked rags near an appliance that burns gas as the vapors could be ignited by the pilot light.
  • Change or clean furnace filters as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Water can damage a propane system. If in danger of flooding, turn off the gas valve at the cylinder or tank before the water rises. After flooding, have the appliances and the system checked and serviced by a qualified technician before turning the gas back on.
  • Clear debris from gas tanks and equipment. Appliance vents, chimneys and flues must be clear so appliances can vent properly. Use a broom, as a shovel may cause damage.
  • If something does not look right with the system or appliance – gas lines are bent, broken or damaged, the tank has shifted position, etc. turn off the main gas supply to the tank, if it is safe to do so. Then, contact the propane retailer or a qualified service technician to inspect the system.

If you have any questions regarding propane use or fire prevention and safety, please contact the Fire Marshal’s Office at (203) 891-4711, Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 4:30, or visit us on the web at www.orangefiremarshal.com.

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