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Don’t create chaos with mobile cooking operations

By Richard S. Campos and James L. Smith | JBSA Fire Emergency Services | Jan. 31, 2017

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas —

Mobile food trucks are making their way across the country as being a convenient way for a quick bite near a work site.

A contributing factor to the popularity of these mobile food trucks are chefs looking for a less expensive way of serving food instead of the traditional stationary restaurant.

As reported by IBISWorld, a business analysis firm, the food truck industry profits grew an average of 9.3 percent each year from 2010 to 2015 to a projected $857 million.

Mobile food trucks can create chaos though, as was the case in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Feltonville. On the morning of July 1, 2014, a gas leak coming from the propane tank of the La Parrillada Chapina mobile food truck ignited. The catastrophic explosion sent a fireball 200 feet into the air, shaking nearby buildings to their core and sending the propane tank 95 feet into the air, finally landing in a neighboring yard.  

Suffering third-degree burns, Olga Galdamez, 42, and her daughter, Jaylin Landaverry-Galdamez, 17, succumbed to their severe injuries three weeks later. Also, injured in the blast were 10 other people, some critically.

By no means has this incident been the first to occur, but since the explosion was captured by a surveillance camera, it was immediately shown throughout the internet and the news media outlets reported it across the country.

Like any tragic incident, questions began to arise, such as “Are food trucks safe?” and “Can this kind of thing happen here?”

Incidents like this are rare, but not unheard of. In 2011, two workers were burned when a New York food truck exploded after a car accident. In 2012 a food truck exploded in Canada causing $30,000 in damage.

In 2014, three people were injured when a food truck exploded at a high school football game. A food truck exploded in a Lakeview, Minn. driveway, damaging 20 homes. The explosion could be felt and heard six miles away. The potential for danger in dealing with propane explosions is not to be taken lightly.

A standard 20-gallon propane tank has the potential explosive capability of 170 sticks of dynamite. Some food trucks may carry propane tanks in an excess of 100 gallons and then throw in the equation of the danger of a running gas generator… a single spark from the stove or generator is a potential disaster waiting to happen.

To avoid these possible incidents, Joint Base San Antonio Fire Emergency Services developed a Mobile Food Vendor Checklist. It is used once the mobile food truck vendor goes through the proper request channels to sell their food items. A date and time is then presented to the JBSA-Fire Prevention section for an inspection. This checklist ensures the contractor is fully aware of their responsibilities in maintaining JBSA fire safe.

For more information about food truck safety, visit the National Fire Prevention Association website at http://www.nfpa.org/education or contact the fire prevention offices at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, 221-2727; JBSA-Lackland, 671-2921; or JBSA-Randolph, 652-6915.