It’s a real enough potential danger to what extent propane tanks in mobile food trucks can go boom – and that’s why the township is taking steps to avert the worst.
In September, a Florida woman was badly burned after a hot box fan attached to a propane tank set up on a food truck parked outside a Broward County stadium ignited and blew up the truck, published reports said.
An explosion of an unoccupied food truck’s propane tank parked in the driveway of its Lakeville, Minn., owner, in March 2015, damaged 11 neighboring homes and tossed debris as far as 500 feet, according to a local news report.
And a leaking propane tank reportedly triggered an explosion of a food truck parked outside an auto body shop in a North Philadelphia suburb in July 2014 that injured 13, including five critically, a local TV station reported.
With at least two mobile food trucks operating within the township limits – one on Lewandowski St. and another on Orient Way – the Lyndhurst Board of Commissioners voted Dec. 12 for the adoption of an ordinance to more closely regulate these vendors.
Public Safety Commissioner John Montillo Jr. said township Fire Official Robert Ferrara had concerns about what he perceived as a gap in state oversight between the Department of Transportation and Department of Community Affairs in monitoring fire-safety issues associated with the use of propane by food trucks.
Propane is used, typically, by these vendors as a fuel source for cooking and/or frying foods, the commissioner said, and, if left unattended or improperly used, it can be a major hazard.
So the commissioners agreed with Ferrara that the township should provide a mechanism to mandate an“annual test” of a vendor’s propane system as a precautionary measure, Montillo said.
The ordinance passed by the governing body mandates annual inspections of these vehicles by the township’s bureau of fire prevention at a cost of $50 to the vendor.
Trucks must pass inspection as a condition of operating. A checklist for such inspection requires a vendor to:
Mount a minimum of one 5-pound ABC-type fire extinguisher in the vehicle or a K-typed extinguisher “if the vendor is using any oils or anything that could cause a grease vapor.”
Use a hood suppression system “that meets or exceeds National Fire Protection Association standards for ventilation control and fire prevention” to control grease vapors.
Keep propane hoses “free of leaks,” secure propane cylinders mounted on the outside of vehicles in a storage cabinet and prominently display a “no smoking” sign near propane cylinders.
Maintain generators that are leak-free and absent sparks from the exhaust system and ensure that exhausts do not back up into the vehicle.
Install smoke detectors between the cooking area and driver’s cab and keep smoke detectors in operation “while the food truck is in motion.”
Install carbon-monoxide detectors in food trucks and trailers. In trucks, mount CO detectors between the cooking area and driver’s cab. In trailers, mount CO detectors in the area where the generator is located. Keep CO detectors in operation at all times.
Mount a propane gas sensor near the propane cylinders and inside the cooking area.
Violations of any of these regulations will be punished by a fine of up to $2,000, up to 90 days in jail or up to 90 days of community service, or any combination subject to the discretion of the municipal court for each day of the offense.
Ferrara said that propane tanks aren’t the only potential source of peril; carbon monoxide from generators must also be monitored, he said.
Lyndhurst’s ordinance essentially “mirrors” the contents of a law Montclair adopted, along with recommendations by the American Food Truck Association, Ferrara said.
Mobile food trucks deserve attention now more than ever, Ferrara said, because “they’re popping up left and right – they’re a lucrative business.”
But because their numbers are growing, it’s getting harder for local fire officials to track them – which means that the potential risk to consumers is that much greater, particularly at special event days where food trucks often are present.
“We’ve had a few explosions involving propane around the country,” Ferrara said, including one early morning fire this past July that consumed a shish-kebob food truck parked outside the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel prior to a music festival. Reports quoted State Police investigators as saying the blaze may have been triggered by a faulty propane tank.
Other area municipalities are beginning to take heed of the problem and take action, Ferrara said. Jersey City, for example, is in the midst of drafting an ordinance to regulate food trucks parked on piers.
“It’s an issue throughout the state,” he said, “and there’s been a bill to deal with it on the governor’s desk for years.”