Column: How to prevent kitchen fire? Stand by your pan


How often has the doorbell rung or a child interrupted you while you were cooking, causing you to forget about the chicken you left sizzling on the stove — until smoke filled the house?

If this scenario or a similar one sounds familiar to you, you may want to think about it a little more because it’s likely that you, a friend or a family member has run the risk of having a dangerous fire. Firefighters often talk to people about the ways you can stay safe in your homes. Too often, we have that talk after people have suffered a damaging fire.

It’s my hope that people reading this article won’t have to learn the hard way. If I could give a simple fire warning, I’d say, “Keep an eye on what you fry!”

Why? Because cooking is the leading cause of home fires, according to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association. The latest statistics from the association say U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 156,600 cooking-related fires between 2007 and 2011.

Local area fire departments are joining forces with national association and thousands of other fire departments across North America to observe Fire Prevention Week Oct. 6 to 12. This year’s theme, “Prevent Kitchen Fires,” reminds us that leaving food cooking unattended and other unsafe kitchen practices are a recipe for disaster.

Often when we’re called to a cooking-related fire, the residents tell us they left the kitchen only for a few minutes. Sadly, that’s all it takes for a dangerous fire to start. The bottom line is that there’s really no safe period of time for the cook to step away from a hot stove. A few key points to remember:

Ӣ Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling or broiling food. If you must leave the room even for a short period of time, turn off the stove.

Ӣ When you are simmering, baking or roasting food, check it regularly, stay in the home and use a timer to remind you.

Ӣ Keep cooking areas clean and clear of combustibles (e.g. potholders, towels, rags, drapes and food packaging).

”¢ Keep children away from cooking areas by enforcing a “kid-free zone” of 3 feet around the stove.
If you have a fire in your microwave, turn off the microwave immediately and keep the door closed. Never open the door until the fire is completely out. If in doubt, get out of the home and call the fire department.

Ӣ Always keep an oven mitt and a lid nearby. If a small grease fire starts in a pan, smother the flames by carefully sliding the lid over the pan (make sure you are wearing the oven mitt). Turn off the burner. Do not move the pan. To keep the fire from restarting, do not remove the lid until the pan is completely cool. Never pour water on a grease fire! If the fire does not go out, get out of the home and call the fire department.

Ӣ If an oven fire starts, turn off the heat and keep the door closed. If the fire does not go out, get out of the home and call the fire department.

A cooking fire can turn deadly quickly. Firefighters have seen too many homes destroyed and people killed or injured by fires that easily could have been avoided. Please heed these simple safety rules. We firefighters would like to be in your kitchen, but only when you invite us for dinner!

John C. Smith is chairman of Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association District 18. He’s also a fire investigator with the Huntingburg Volunteer Fire Department.

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