According to the National Fire Protection Association, gas or propane grills constitute a higher risk for accident. Statistics collected by the group show that gas grills were involved in an annual average of 6,900 home fires between 2005 and 2009, while charcoal or other solid-fueled grills were involved in an annual average of 1,100 home fires over the same period [source: NFPA].
Furthermore, remember that water isn't the cure-all for a gas-fed fire. Balch says he'll never forget his first call on the job, when he arrived to find a two-story building engulfed in huge, blue flames, but no sign of smoke.
"Usually, with a fire, you've got tons of smoke, [but] it was these beautiful blue flames. I run around the back of the house, and my jaw nearly hit the ground," says Balch. "The fire was coming out of the pool -- the water itself. These huge blue flames are lapping off this above-ground pool."
The guy who was cooking apparently panicked when the hose from the propane tank popped off the back of the grill, creating a flashback fire when he started the grill.
"So now the propane is spewing out all over the place, and he's got fire all over," says Balch. "So what does he do? He grabs the entire barbecue and throws it into his pool. And as the gas bubbled out the propane tank, to the surface, the flames would lick back to where the gas was coming from. So we just sat back and waited until the propane tank ran out."
The key was that the propane kept feeding the flames, much like an acetylene torch will burn underwater.
"And the comical thing was that the guy lost all his hair" when he grabbed the grill, says Balch. "It looked liked somebody took a match and went right through his bangs and arm hair and eyelashes and eyebrows -- all gone. He wasn't burnt, but he lost his hair."
Lesson learned? Take time to make sure your grill is in good working order, especially if it's the first cookout of the season, and even if you store the grill indoors in the off-season. Check hoses and connections to make certain they're secure. Replace any worn parts. If you suspect a leak, you can check by rubbing a film of soapy water over the gas line. If you smell gas, contact the fire department immediately. Know the "Stop, Drop, and Roll" technique of damping flames if your clothes catch fire. And keep a quality home-size fire extinguisher nearby.