Asked how many barbecue mishaps are alcohol-related, Balch immediately replies "All of them." Then he laughs, and adjusts his estimates to "around 95 percent."
His message is clear: The overwhelming majority of BBQ-related accidents happen because people are under the influence, which often results in bad decisions. Alcohol is what leads people to think it's OK to squirt lighter fluid on lit coals, without stopping to think of the flashback potential that lands hundreds of grillers in the hospital each year.
Balch recalls one instance when his crew was called to a house were a couple of guys were cooking over a homemade grill consisting of a 55-gallon drum covered in chicken wire.
"I could tell the guys were just blitzed, and the steaks were just incinerated. They could hardly walk, and they thought it was so funny that the fire department was there," says Balch. "So I told them I'd let them have their little barbecue, but that I'd be back in half and hour, and it had better be out."
The crew didn't even make it back to the station before getting called back to the same house.
"They had gone inside and passed out," Balch said. "The wind kicked up, blew some leaves on the grill, and before they knew it, the whole backyard ... and their neighbor's fence was on fire."
The lesson learned? If you're going to grill and drink, imbibe in moderation.