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Gas Grills Common on North End Roof Decks; Photos Reveal Hazardous, Illegal Use

Tent-gate has now been resolved (whew!), but it brought up the related, and far more serious, public safety concern of gas grills on roof decks. The North End / Waterfront is one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the country with abutting buildings and wooden interior construction.

In response to these concerns and access from our friends at Old North, we climbed to the highest point in the North End and found an alarming number of gas (and charcoal) grills on roof decks within a few nearby blocks. The attached photos, taken this week, show the prevalence of the illegally placed grills.

Two years ago, residents of Charlestown found out how dangerous gas grills can be on roof decks. A faulty propane tank exploded on the roof of a condo and the four-alarm fire destroyed two buildings. (See Globe article and photo gallery.)

The North End / Waterfront neighborhood came together last year to rally against hazmat trucks passing on the streets, including those transporting propane. Yet, there appears to be a passive tolerance for the same type of public safety hazard much closer at hand on balconies and rooftops. If an incident similar to what happened in Charlestown occurred in the denser North End, it is unclear how extensive the damage could be or the risk to historical treasures, such as the Paul Revere House or Old North Church.

Roof decks provide open air living and great views, but reports at recent Public Safety meetings show that some irresponsible residents are abusing the luxury. There are reports of intoxicated people urinating off rooftops at parties. On July 4th, beer bottles were thrown at police officers from a roof on Hanover Street. Also last week, officers observed propane tanks being tossed off a rooftop in Mission Hill and arrested four 20-something males. Back in 2010, a female victim actually fell off a rooftop at a North End party.

Gas, propane and charcoal grills are prohibited on balconies or decks above the first floor level, according to fire regulations. First floor gas grills are allowed, provided there is direct ground egress. Electric grills are also allowed on decks and balconies, as are grills with permanent piped in gas, similar to kitchens. The ordinances appear to focus on the risk of the combustible gas and propane tanks.

For more information, see the City’s webpage on barbecue safety or the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services safety handout (pdf). Violators can be reported to Inspectional Services at (Customer Service), the Mayor’s Hotline at (617) 635-4500 or

Councilor Sal LaMattina’s office is also accepting reports of addresses with illegal gas grills at 617-635-3200 or email Akshat in the office at Councilor LaMattina chairs a Problem Properties Task Force that contacts property owners on these types of issues.

Update: Thanks to for linking the article and CBS Boston WBZ-TV4 for the follow up report featuring Old North, leading the 6:00 news on July 13, 2012. The video report is embedded below, crediting for the original report.

Life of luxury on a North End roof deck … gas grill and a pool to cool off!
Gas Grills, everywhere!
These folks aren’t bothering with gas, just regular charcoal. Empty beer bottles and open trash complete the scene.
Flower pots and a gas grill on North End roof deck.
Gas grill on deck, surrounded by three buildings.
The deluxe outdoor kitchen model … four gas burners.

15 Replies to “Gas Grills Common on North End Roof Decks; Photos Reveal Hazardous, Illegal Use

  1. well years ago the north end had a fire bug this man was going roof to roof torching homes in the north end.. well… these fire bugs are out in the open and unfortunatly a fire is waiting to happen…. shame on the landlords..shame on the condo associations..i just hope people all have working fire alarms..

    1. We go through this every year. A few years ago they focused on Charlestown. Propane is heavier than air, so any leak will find it's way into the units below. Disconnecting the tank would help, but it's no guarantee.

  2. You know what else is illegal? The fireworks that are lit multiple times a week in front of my house. I have been on the roof when lit ones land up there. Common sense says that a lit firework on a roof can lead to more dangerous situation than a properly maintained grill.

    If I were to complain about the old tradition of lighting fireworks in the north end every damn day, the same people complaining about grills would be lashing out.

    And you know what? I don’t want to complain about the fireworks. They are enjoyable, just like a grill if you happen to have one. Use them responsibly, and all is well.

    Moral of the story: Enough already with taking pictures of people’s HOMES, putting them on the internet, and enough with the nosy neighbors commenting. Relax, and enjoy the city living.

  3. As a Northend resident found out several years ago when there was a fire in her condo building caused by an illegal gas (propane) grill on the building’s roofdeck….the condo’s insurance company paid nada zero zip zilch for the damages caused by the fire. Thankfully nobody was injured but there was significant damage …paid for by a hefty assessment to the owners.

    1. The solution is a call to the Fire Captain at Hanover Station. If you alert him to a grill on a roof, he can take care of it. Simply put, end of story, easily done.

  4. I agree Rick. If people start going down this path restricting grills, where will it end?

    How is it any different then someone falling asleep with a cigar or cigarette in their mouth and setting a building on fire. Should we ban smoking in the north end?


    We’re not teenagers, we can grill up some hamburgers without burning down the neighborhood.

  5. According to FEMA, there are roughly 28,300 ELECTRICAL fires annually in the USA compared to only 7000 gas grill fires. This data is the national total for the hundreds of millions of homes in America.

    Do you think we should all stop using electricity? Have you noticed the aging wiring in the North End?

    Your house is at 4x greater risk of burning due to your neighbors wiring (or possibly your own) than a gas grill.

    Hopefully this ends this debate and people can focus on issues that matter.

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

  6. There is a greater chance of the restaurant directly below your place burning down the building than a roof top grill burning down the building. Heat rises – its science.

    I mirror the opinions of Rick, Mike and John, and preemptively disagree with anything posted in all caps in the future, comment or story.

  7. I agree with most of the commentors above. These grills pose little risk to the north end in relation to some of the other fire hazards (i.e. nightly fireworks, faultywiring, old gas/electric)

    Almost all of these pictures that were taken show clean, neat and responsible grill owners. The only one that could be criticized is the green charcoal – but the picture could have been taken while the residents went down to get a trash bag or something.

    People are making mountains out of mole hills here. There are plenty of other issues to address in the north end

  8. Regulations

    The following regulations apply to the use of portable charcoal and gas operated cooking grilles on or within a building or structure and includes balconies, fire escapes, porches, roofs as a part thereof;

    Charcoal Grills
    Under the authority of Article 1, section 1.05(b), the Boston Fire Department prohibits the use of portable charcoal cooking grilles on or within a building or structure for the following reasons:

    Improper use of starter fuel resulting in burn.

    Numerous fire safety complaints to the Boston Fire Department by persons within or near the building.

    Wind velocity affecting open flame.

    Fire hazard conditions high or extreme.

    Resultant Fire Department response due to persons observing assumed building fire from a distance and/or reports of smoke odor from an assumed building fire in the area.

    Lack of attendance resulting in unwarranted smoke pollution. Danger of explosive gas build up

    Gas Operated Grills
    527 Commonwealth of Mass. Board of Fire Prevention regulation 6.07 (5) (a) prohibits the use or storage of liquefied petroleum gas containers used for barbecue cooking inside or on balconies above the first floor of any building or structure used for habitation.

    This includes 1-lb. propane containers attached to portable cooking grills.

  9. Hi folks – Thanks for your interest in this article. I’m happy to post photos of illegal electrical work or fireworks (remember, most of the groups/societies have permits).

    This post was motivated by several neighbors that are sincerely concerned and feel surrounded. Take a look at the Charlestown photos: And, there have been smaller accidents with propane tanks in the downtown neighborhoods, including the NE, on a regular basis.

    Saying there are bigger problems misses the point. Just because heart attacks kill more people than cancer, doesn’t mean we should stop trying to prevent cancer.

    There are several legal, and safer, ways to grill on a roof deck including using an electric grill (weber makes them), nat gas piped in (propane gas is heavier than air, so it sinks into lower floors, nat gas dissipates faster) or using a propane tank on a ground floor. I know everyone thinks they are Emeril on a BBQ, but electric heat cooks just as well as gas.

    In addition to a couple of TV stations (watch the news!) … Councilor LaMattina’s office has contacted me looking for addresses to add to the problem properties list … if you know of an address with an illegal propane gas grill on a balcony or roof deck that you want to report, call his office at 617-635-3200 so they can follow up with the property owner.



  11. The Vicker of the Old North Church is right…sad as we were to do it, we removed all the propane tanks from the roof deck this week. Fear not the roof deck dinners will continue – Weber makes an excellent electric grill.

  12. When some people are on the top of the world, they feel like they are some gods that can do whatever they want. I’m not 100 percent into the idea of roof decks because people do crazy things like messing up their place, lighting fires, drinking beers and throwing the bottles when they are high. A roof deck should have been a lovely place to relax and enjoy the air but only when you keep it safe and clean.

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