Barbecue Safety Guidelines

Many types of outdoor fires (not for cooking) are prohibited by the Cambridge Fire Dept. and Boston Fire Dept.


Safety Precautions For All Barbecues

Barbecue organizers are responsible for implementing these guidelines to ensure everyone’s safety.

Designate a Fire Watch

  • The event sponsor or the caterer should designate someone to be the “fire watch” at all times. Designate more than one person and rotate them, if necessary. 
  • The fire watch should confirm that they have reviewed this webpage as their training. The fire watch is responsible for checking that these guidelines are followed during the entire time that the cooking equipment is being used. The fire watch must correct anything that is not safe immediately or direct someone else to do this. 
  • The cooking equipment must be constantly attended when in use by the fire watch and/or the cook.  
  • The fire watch should not leave until the coals have been drenched with water or the valve on the propane tank has been turned off. 
  • The fire watch should be prepared to use the garden hose at any time.
  • Keep a garden hose nearby that is connected to a water supply and that has an adjustable nozzle. A 5-gallon bucket of water is an alternative if a hose connection is not nearby.
  • EHS discourages MIT personnel, who are Fire Watches, from using fire extinguishers. 
  • If you hire a fire fighter detail for propane cooking, then the MIT event sponsor will need obtain at least one 40BC fire extinguisher from MIT R&M Fire Protection.  Use Atlas to submit an SAP requisition On the left navigation, select "Full Catalog", then in the "Buying" section select "Internal (MIT Services)".

What can and can not be used

  • Use charcoal only. No wood or other materials can be burned due to the fire and environmental regulations. 
  • Use a grill to cook food and to comply with the Mass. Fire regulations. The Cambridge Fire Dept. prohibits the use of chiminea and the other open fire pits.

Prevent burns and Lighting the Grill

  • Never lean directly over a grill while lighting it.
  • Use a lighter with a long barrel.  Since even a small child can figure out how to use child resistant lighters, keep all lighters out of reach of children.
  • Do not leave a lighter where the weather can damage the plastic and cause fuel leaks.
  • Wear tight-fitting sleeves or short sleeve shirts, tuck in clothing. 
  • Wear an insulated flame-retardant mitt when lighting the grill, lifting lids or adjusting vents. 
  • Use long-handled barbecue tongs and utensils designed for safe handling of food and coals.
  • Keep children and pets at a safe distance

Set up your grill in a safe area

  • At least 25 feet away from any MIT building, tent, combustible materials, or air intake
  • Not under any type of overhang such as:  tent, canopy, umbrella, trees with overhanging branches, breezeway, etc.
  • Avoid a windy spot because sparks can ignite nearby paper products, dry grass, leaves, pine needles, shrubs, etc.
  • Wind blockers must be made of non-combustible material. 
  • On a flat, level, non-combustible surface so the grill won’t tip over
  • Killian Court can no longer be reserved by DLCs to have barbecues and similar events.

Keep your grill clean

  • Remove grease or fat buildup from the grills and in drip trays.
  • Prevent burns from grease spills that flare up

Lighting charcoal

  • Use charcoal starter cones, cubes, large matches and other alternative lighting methods that are described at  These are better for the environment than lighter fluid.
  • If you use charcoal lighter fluid, do not add more after the charcoal has been ignited. The fire could flash back and burn you. Self-starting charcoal is another option.
  • Do not use lighter fluid if the fumes could be pulled into a building air intake because this often causes adverse reactions.

When you finish cooking

  • Drench the coals with water and leave the coals in the grill until the next day or at least several hours.
  • Dispose of the coals in the metal trash can, which Grounds Services can provide.

Store excess supplies safely

  • Put lighter fluid in a flammable storage cabinet
  • Put unused charcoal briquettes in an airtight container (metal is best) and keep away from any heat source

A Cambridge Fire Dept. fire fighter detail may be needed

A Cambridge Fire Dept. fire fighter detail is required if: 

  • A propane tank with a capacity of 42 pounds (10 gallons) or more, or for use of 2 or more pieces of cooking equipment, regardless of propane tank capacity.
  • Your caterer will onlyuse20-39 lbs. of propaneand 50 or more people are expected to attend. 
  • Your caterer will be frying with oil or other higher risk cooking
  • If your rain plan is to have your caterer cook under a tent

The Fire Department and MIT Police often check if the safety precautions are being taken and if a signed MIT Barbecue Application is on site during the barbecue. If either is not, they may stop the cooking.

Use of propane cooking equipment for events and when a police and/or fire fighter detail is required

Amount of propane

Safety Plan, Leak check, fire watch, Professional caterer

Police Detail needed

Fire Fighter Detail required

total of less than or equal to 39 lbs.

(usually 20 lb. tank)


Yes if the event  triggers one or more of the current requirements to hire a police detail.

50 or more people are expected to attend. 


Caterer will be frying or other higher risk cooking


Total of 40 lbs. or more 

·    2 or more 20 lb. tanks  

·   1 or more 42 lb. tanks


Yes if the event  triggers one or more of the current requirements to hire a police detail.




The Fire Dept. recently decided that they will no longer require the outdoor cooking permit, unless an MIT event is on a public street. The Fire Dept. is also no longer requiring a propane permit.


Locations of permanent barbecue grills:

  • Near Kresge Auditorium (contact Campus Activities Complex to schedule)
  • At most of the dormitories (contact the House Manager to schedule)

If you are interested in using different cooking equipment near the permanent barbecue grills, or another location, please follow the process described below.

Unsafe Locations:
The Mass. Board of Fire Prevention regulations as well as the Cambridge Fire Dept. and Boston Fire Dept. prohibit the use of barbecue grills in the following locations:  Inside a building, on a roof, fire escape or fire escape balconies, windowsill, porches or decks that are enclosed with a roof/ceiling/other confining material, in garages or similar area, or other portions of a building.

At MIT:  Any area that is near an air intake, which could draw smoke into a building and set off the fire alarm. Also the lighter fluid fumes (VOCs) and carbon monoxide will be pulled into a building air intake and cause adverse reactions. The President's Garden can't be used because it is surrounded by Bldgs. 10, 11, and 13 and their air intakes. 

Cambridge fire regulations cite the Following:


  • The Fire Department does not allow the use of, natural gas, propane gas, charcoal, electric or other fuel source, hibachis, grills, etc. on porches, balconies, or roofs. The use of grills, hibachis, etc. is allowed if used only for cooking purposes and must be kept outdoors at ground level away from any combustibles.

Process for Charcoal Barbecues:

  1. Register your event. (instructions for students and for staff)  Please go to  Refer to the attached instructions to register barbecues in Atlas. 
  2. If this event does not need to be registered, contact MIT Police to determine if they need to sign this form and/or assign a police detail. This may not be needed for barbecues at the permanent barbecue grills listed above.
  3. Reserve a safe location. Campus Activities Complex reserves many outdoor event locations. If you already have a virtual scheduling account, you can just link to the CAC-DAPER Scheduling System.  If you do not have a scheduling account, please contact CAC at 617-253-3913 or CAC and Grounds make a joint decision on requests to use Kresge Oval and lawns in the vicinity. Housing locations must be approved by both Grounds Services and the House Manager, who also makes your reservation. Use the charcoal barbecue form (scroll down) for any location except the permanent grills behind Kresge.
  4. Contact the EHS Safety Program if you have questions after you review the safety precautions listed above.   
  5. Download the pdf form for charcoal barbecues (scroll down), save, and type in the information. The template is an editable pdf.  Or you can  disable the browser based pdf viewer 
    Note:  Hand-writing is barely legible when the document has been faxed a few times.  
  6. Email the form to the offices listed on the form for their approval. Signatures may be electronic or typed in. Handwritten signatures are no longer required. Note: The Grounds Services Supervisor signs this form after the EHS Office has signed.
  7. Submit the completed form as your safety plan when registering your event in Atlas. 
  8. The approved form must be displayed during the event.
  9. If you require outside cleanup assistance for your event, trash and/or recycle barrels or hose hook up, please submit an SAP requisition the left navigation, select "Full Catalog", then in the "Buying" section select "Internal (MIT Services)". For hourly costs, contact the Grounds Office directly at 3-5001 for a quote. Ask if your location has a metal trash can to dispose of the coals, which have been soaked in water.

Process for Propane Barbecues and other cooking equipment is on the attached form.

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