Man burned while lighting gas grill during family picnic

July 25, 2000|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

A Woodbine man suffered first- and second-degree burns to his face and neck while lighting a gas grill Sunday, state fire marshal reports said.

Joseph Serwna, 34, of the 1800 block of Gum Road was taken to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center by Maryland State Police MedEvac helicopter at 4:27 p.m., where he was treated and released, according to the medical center.

Serwna was trying to light the propane grill at his home during a family picnic. His wife, Carol Serwna, said that the gas had been on for about 10 minutes when he ignited it, causing flames to flash into his face.

About 25 people attended the gathering, and several of them were close to the grill minutes before the flames shot into the air. "It could have been a catastrophe. It could have been death," Carol Serwna said

Flash fires such as that are not very common, but the injuries they cause can be very serious, said Bob Thomas, deputy chief fire marshal.

"If you inhale any of the gas and suffer facial burns, you may also suffer internal burns of the larynx or lungs," Thomas said. "You need to be extremely cognizant if you receive facial burns and have trouble breathing to seek medical attention."

Gas grills present a danger because propane is odorless and colorless.

"You would never know if you are standing in or covered by gas vapors," Thomas said. He recommends that only adults be allowed to ignite propane grills and that manufacturers' instructions be strictly followed.

Fires are more commonly started by leaks in propane tanks, Thomas said.

"After propane grills are assembled a lot of people never follow up and make sure each year the valves and connections are tight between the fuel tank and the grill," Thomas said. "They just fire it up."

Other basic safety instructions include checking for weather damage if the grill has been left outside all year long, and moving the grill 10 to 20 feet from buildings to prevent them from catching fire. Grills should not be used inside because carbon monoxide might build up. Thomas also recommends never using gasoline or diesel fuel to ignite the grill.

In addition to the fire hazard, "your food is going to taste like garbage," he said.

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