A reminder about promoting safety, sharing the benefits of propane

June 25, 2015 By    

A YouTube video has drawn the ire of the propane industry.

Certainly one can find anything on the Internet – good, bad or indifferent. But when a video comes across as professionally made and the parties involved assert damaging statements against our industry, it’s a topic worthy of discussion.

The hot topic is food trucks, which have gotten more attention in recent years for a couple of reasons. Their popularity seems to have grown, as the colorful mobile vehicles are visible on downtown city streets in the warm summer months. An IBISWorld market research report reveals 9.3 percent annual growth in the food truck industry over the past five years. It cites consumers who are increasingly favoring “unique, gourmet cuisine at budget-conscious prices.”

But food trucks also have created a certain safety and regulatory buzz following a July 2014 incident in Philadelphia that killed a mother and daughter operating a truck. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association is considering a national standard, through NFPA 96, addressing food truck fire safety.

The video, hosted by T. Boone Pickens’ public company, Clean Energy Fuels, brings these types of incidents to light in a 3-minute, 21-second span that spends the first couple of minutes questioning the safety of propane and its use on food trucks. Their message: Propane is meant for backyard grills, not to be “jostled around” in exchange cylinders on city streets.

Clean Energy Fuels, whose website reports its market value at about $1 billion and which operates more than 500 natural gas fueling stations in 43 states, explains why it believes compressed natural gas (CNG) is the answer for food trucks and carts. The company teamed with New York City food truck vendor Neapolitan Express and technology provider MOVE Systems on a food truck that uses CNG to power the vehicle and cook the food.

Stuart Flatow is no stranger to hearing about questionable practices and messages related to propane in online videos. The vice president of safety and training at the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) has been known to show do-it-yourself propane videos during presentations at industry events. It’s his way of hammering home a safety point. So it was no surprise that he had seen the food truck video in question.

“I don’t think any gaseous fuel, whether it’s natural gas or propane, should compete on safety. To say one gaseous fuel is safer than the other is a fallacy,” Flatow says. “Second, I think it’s outrageous to exploit the death of a mother and daughter to advance your market into food trucks.”

Flatow says PERC is willing to work with local governments and municipalities to help train food truck owners and users on cylinder safety – and propane safety, in general.

“This video casts a pall on the industry in general as being irresponsible and having an unsafe product, and it’s just not true,” Flatow says.

So what can we learn from this issue? Two points, in particular.

As Jay Johnston, our safety columnist, has written and reminded, propane marketers and refillers should always inspect the condition and requalification dates on all cylinders before filling them. With proper equipment and trained employees, and when tanks are safely transported, used, secured and stored, propane is a great portable fuel, Johnston says.

Secondly, take control of your messages – for the sake of your business and the propane industry. Tell your story, reminding customers and your community about the many benefits of propane. When you do this, don’t forget about the digital tools at your arsenal – your website and social media, among them.

“If you’re upset about this, take action,” Flatow says. “PERC has a number of videos that espouse the safety of propane. Put them on your websites. Call your local media and show those videos. Get those out to the public.”

One final thought, courtesy of Johnston.

“Our efforts ensuring food truck safety should be founded in code compliance with regard to inspecting, filling and transporting cylinders according to DOT regulations,” he says.

About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at brichesson@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3748.

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