When a North End blog posted photos documenting numerous violations of a city ban on rooftop grills, some residents surely sighed and wondered: Who called out the grill police?
Yet gas and charcoal grills on roofs do pose fire hazards, as the blog NorthEndWaterfront.com recently noted. Massachusetts, Boston, and countless other jurisdictions restrict their use because grill fires cause serious damage every year — about 10 deaths, 100 injuries, and $37 million in US residential property losses, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A 2010 Charlestown fire that destroyed two buildings is evidence that the risk grills pose in dense urban areas isn’t just theoretical.
Public shaming, however, isn’t a solution. Many residents aren’t even aware of the grill ban, and public safety officials need to better educate residents about the laws. In Boston, residents can’t use charcoal grills on balconies, rooftops, and anywhere else on or inside a building. Propane-tank gas grills face the same restrictions, except they can be used on the first floor.
Meanwhile, there’s an obvious market niche here. As the nation’s urban renaissance continues, the grill industry shouldn’t assume that everyone who wants to grill burgers lives in a single-family home. Surely there are ways to minimize the possibility of flare-ups, gas leaks, and tipped-over charcoal. It may not be possible to eliminate all risk. But if the industry comes up with safer grills more suitable for urban use, city laws should accommodate them.