Philly explosion raises questions about food truck safety

Food trucks lined up for the lunch crowd Wednesday.
Published: .
Updated: .

Across the country and across Indianapolis, you can get some great food curbside.

But is it safe?

We're not talking about the food, but the trucks. An explosion at a food truck in Philadelphia is raising questions and concerns. A propane tank on the truck ignited, sending a fireball 200 feet into the air. The blast injured 12 people, two of them critically.

Locally, the brightly-painted trucks offering a wide variety of food are the rage. They frequently attract crowds of hungry people. At a truck feast on the northwest side, Ashley Miller proclaimed, "The food is awesome. It's very good."

But how good or safe is it when propane tanks, generators and cans of gasoline are mixed among the trucks and their customers?

"I'm really excited about the food," Rachel Kilroy said. "But I hadn't thought about that."


"Yes," she said.

Kilroy's friend, Elizabeth Steward, admitted, "I suppose it makes me want to stand away from the truck right now."

Victims of the horrific explosion in Philadelphia wish they had been further away. A mother and daughter in the truck were critically injured. Flames and flying debris hit people nearby. The ruptured propane tank landed 150 feet way.

Despite the potential dangers, Indiana's food trucks are not required to have fire safety inspections.

"Wow," Cory Johnson said, holding his just-bought lunch. "That's pretty alarming, actually. I hope something is done about that."

So does Indianapolis Fire Marshal Chief Courtney Gordon.

"After what happened in Philadelphia, that's an issue that needs to be addressed, should be addressed," he said.

If food truck vendors move from their trucks to a fair or special event and they set up a booth or worked in a tent, they will be inspected by the local or state fire marshal. Why aren't trucks inspected? Because they're trucks, not structures.

"They are on wheels," explained Gordon. "They are vehicles. So by state law we cannot inspect these vehicles."

The food trucks are inspected by the county health department. Inspectors make sure the food is safe and propane tanks are outside.

Tyler Ward co-owns The Spice Box food truck and is confident his truck is okay. Taking a break from the lunch crowd, he said, "We take all the precautions necessary for us to make sure we are good to go and be safe."


Eyewitness News showed photos of several trucks to the fire marshal who spotted the cans of gasoline for the trucks' portable generators.

"Looks like it's pretty close to the propane tank," he said.

Good idea?

"Not at all," he answered.

Safety violation?

Gordon replied quickly, "It certainly would be if it was a structure."

But they're not structures, they're trucks.

A truck owner we spoke with believes operators would support a change in the law, giving fire inspectors the authority to inspect the trucks and check for safety issues.

What happens in the meantime?

Given the tragedy in Philadelphia, it is likely fire inspectors will be visiting big events where there are a lot of food trucks, looking for obvious safety issues and suggesting the operator fix them.