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Don't Get Fired Up In The Kitchen

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK


            It goes without saying that the best way to maintain safety in a kitchen is to keep me out of it.

            But I said it anyway, and as it happens, the theme of this year’s Fire Prevention Week is “Prevent kitchen fires”. Even a group of Congressmen couldn’t argue over whether that’s a good idea. Could they?

            “My esteemed colleague doesn’t seem to understand that if all fires were prevented, it would mean unemployment for untold numbers of construction crews and emergency room workers!”

            Yeah, I guess they could.

            The National Fire Protection Association decides on themes for this important week. Since cooking is the number one cause of home fires, I think they’ve chosen wisely. If only they chose wisely in naming their mascot, a huge and rather over caffeinated looking dog named Sparky.

            We don’t want sparks. Sparks are bad, except when lighting campfires, or igniting homemade cannons to flatten alien invaders. Shouldn’t the NFPA’s mascot be named Soggy? Or would that cause thoughts of nightmare scenarios involving puppy training?

            I once tried to train our dog to extinguish cooking fires, but he didn’t want to expose that particular part of himself to the flames. Smart dog.
           In our house the kitchen is fairly safe as long as I’m not allowed to cook; and when I am allowed to cook, food poisoning usually takes the number one danger spot. Instead, my wife cooks while I do the dishes, which seems pretty fair. No one has ever started a fire while doing dishes, although I did electrocute myself that way, once. Okay, twice.

            Long story.

            Emily’s a hands-on cook. She’s cutting stuff up, mixing things together, doing everything the 50’s sitcom wives did while wearing high heels and pearl necklaces. I don’t get it. Do we not have wonderful people in factories cooking this stuff for us, and throwing it into convenient boxes named Banquet, or Swanson? If I could get frozen boxes of freshly washed pots and pans, I’d throw that kitchen sink right out the window.

            But frozen dinners don’t protect you from kitchen fires, and her cooking is way better than the lines of little old ladies slapping stuff together in the Banquet family kitchen, so who am I to complain?

            Meanwhile, I can speak with some authority on kitchen fires, both because I’m a firefighter and, well … I used to cook a lot.

            Kitchen fires are common because that’s where the fire is. Whether you use electric or gas, stuff gets hot, and hot is dangerous. When stuff catches on fire people panic, doing such things as pouring water on the flames—because it’s the kitchen, and there’s water right there, after all.

            Here are a few other things people do wrong, when it comes to cooking:

            They leave.

            Leaving is bad. Almost all unattended fires don’t have anyone attending them. Most stove fires I’ve gone to as a firefighter were unattended, and even if the flames don’t spread beyond the pan, let me assure you: The smell is horrible.

            They fall asleep.

            Dude, if you’re that tired, sleep now—have breakfast later.

            They drink.

            Cooking sherry is for cooking. If you’re consuming alcoholic beverages, you should do pretty much nothing else, except maybe watch football or take a nap. Or take a nap while watching football—set an alarm for the halftime show.

            They put flammable stuff on the stove.

            I have a big plastic bowl with a very odd pattern on the bottom. Kind of dents, in a circular pattern. In fact, it’s the exact same pattern you’ll find on the top of my gas stove if, say, you turned off the flames but didn’t wait for the stove to cool down before you set a big plastic bowl on it.

            On any given day, somebody’s stove will have on it an oven mitt, wooden spoon, cardboard food box, or towel. Guaranteed. And every year, 156,000 structure fires are reported that start with cooking. That’s 420 deaths, 5,310 injuries, and almost a billion dollars in property damage. And you know what the worst part of a kitchen fire is? When it’s over …

            You’ll still be hungry.

            Two thirds of cooking fires start when food itself ignites, which kinda makes sense, and see above about how horrible it smells. Scorched beans and corn especially stink, for some reason. And even though a lot of fires start with unattended cooking, more than half of the injuries come when people try to fight the fires.

            Can you fight kitchen fires? Sure, after you call 911 (they’ll wisely tell you to leave), but you’re taking your chances. If you happen to be right there when something in a pan catches, just turn off the heat and drop a lid on it, suffocating the fire.

            But a lot of people won’t do that. In a panic, they’ll splash water on the fire, which will cause grease and oil to splatter and spread the fire further. Don’t do that.

            Better idea: Have a fire extinguisher and know how to use it. In one of my novels, a panicked character tries to read the directions on the extinguisher after a fire breaks out. That’s a poor time to take a class, people. (And why haven’t you read that book? I mean, other than that it’s not published yet?)

            Read the directions and take a class, so if the fire’s very small you can stand with your back to an exit, aim the extinguisher at the base of the fire, and get the heck outside, preferably after you dialed 911. Do I sound too cautious? Well, last year 2,520 civilians died in fires, and another 13,910 were injured. Do I still sound too cautious?

            That’s just a quick overview of the dangers, and what you can do about them. Oh, and one more thing: Thanksgiving is the number one day for home cooking fires, so order take-out.

            Then you can stay out of the kitchen, and enjoy your nap during the football game.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
kerk_e_fics
Oct. 3rd, 2013 07:20 pm (UTC)
Shots fired near US Capitol
ozma914
Oct. 3rd, 2013 07:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Shots fired near US Capitol
Stay tuned ....
petzipellepingo
Oct. 3rd, 2013 10:14 pm (UTC)
If you happen to be right there when something in a pan catches, just turn off the heat and drop a lid on it, suffocating the fire.


Or drop a big amount of baking soda on it. I keep some handy right by the stove as, unlike water, it won't splatter or make the fire worse.
red_satin_doll
Oct. 4th, 2013 01:45 am (UTC)
Or drop a big amount of baking soda on it.

That's worked very well for me several times - except when we had the bedroom fire in August. I tried pouring baking soda on it but the mattress had already caught fire. So - baking soda on grease fires good, on flaming mattresses not so much.
ozma914
Oct. 4th, 2013 04:35 am (UTC)
Baking soda works great on class B fires, involving flammable liquids. When class A material, like a mattress, burns, baking soda doesn't have the quenching ability to penetrate and absorb the heat of the fire. (And neither does a dry chemical fire extinguisher, which is why if you have a larger class A fire it might knock out the flames, but leave the material smoldering and ready to burst into flames again.)
red_satin_doll
Oct. 4th, 2013 09:15 pm (UTC)
(And neither does a dry chemical fire extinguisher, which is why if you have a larger class A fire it might knock out the flames, but leave the material smoldering and ready to burst into flames again.)

thanks for the advice! I'm pretty sure if I'd thought about it for a split second I wouldn't have tried the baking soda but water wasn't working so - desperation and all that jazz. Our landlord brought over a larger extinguisher but didn't even try to use it because he said the fire was "too out of control by then". My sweetie thought that was bs but based on what you're saying, probably not. It might have quieted things down for a moment but we'll never know. (And hopefully NEVER will again. Oy.)
ozma914
Oct. 5th, 2013 05:38 am (UTC)
A dry chemical fire extinguisher is still the best one to have, partially because it's non-conductive of electricity. The thing is, if used properly those extinguishers will knock down a *lot* of fire, so he may have been able to temporarily stop its spread with that extinguisher he bought; but the way they work is to stop the chain reaction that causes flame, and so they don't work well on smoldering fires, which have no open flame. So the flames might have all gone out, but if the fire had eaten into flammable solids enough (mattresses, blankets, paper, wallpaper, whatever) it would burst into flames again after just a few minutes. A compressed air powered water extinguisher would put out that kind of fire -- but you don't want to use it on grease, oil, and anything electric, and it doesn't put out as large an area.

From what I know, my guess is that your landlord made the right call too not risk it ... by then there were some pretty toxic gasses coming off that fire along with the smoke, and the gasses are mostly invisible.
red_satin_doll
Oct. 4th, 2013 01:43 am (UTC)
“My esteemed colleague doesn’t seem to understand that if all fires were prevented, it would mean unemployment for untold numbers of construction crews and emergency room workers!”

Huh. glad to know my sweetie and I did our part to keep employment going in this country....(the trauma and suffering were worth my patriotic duty, I tell ya. /*end sarcasm*)

No one has ever started a fire while doing dishes, although I did electrocute myself that way, once. Okay, twice.

WTF? Did you try to pull a cord out of the socket with wet hands?

My sweetie once singed the front of her hair because she once put a paper bag of standard (old-fashioned) popcorn kernels into the microwave and the thing caught on fire. What did she do? She opened the microwave door, thus supplying the fire with the oxygen it needed to keep going.

She didn't do so well during the bedroom fire in August either.

I try to keep her out of my way in the kitchen. She gets to do the dishes.

ozma914
Oct. 4th, 2013 04:40 am (UTC)
It sounds like you two have worked out a good arrangement!

Although I've never heard Congressmen make that argument, the construction industry does actively campaign against home sprinkler systems, which would stop almost all serious fires, deaths and injuries in residences. Their argument is cost, but in new home construction the cost is minimal. My only conclusion must be that they don't want to lose the money from replacing burned properties.

I exaggerated the electrocution thing for comic effect -- I do that! I did get shocked now and then in our kitchen, when touching the metal trimming in certain areas, until my son in law tracked down the electrical fault and got it repaired ... but while cleaning the counter, not while actually doing disheds.
red_satin_doll
Oct. 4th, 2013 09:06 pm (UTC)
the construction industry does actively campaign against home sprinkler systems, which would stop almost all serious fires, deaths and injuries in residences. Their argument is cost, but in new home construction the cost is minimal.

WHAT? Cost? Are they kidding? The costs will be passed onto the homeowner in the inflated purchase price. that's how it's worked for decades. (I learned that part of the reason that the price and size of housing soared in the 1980's was partly to do with the fact that certain basics: septic, etc) cost the same regardless of the size of the house, ergo a larger home = more profit for the builders.

My recall might be wonky on that account but nonetheless, the "cost" argument makes no sense, esp when houses are McMansions loaded with granite sinks and trash compactors, etc.

I did get shocked now and then in our kitchen, when touching the metal trimming in certain areas,

That is just freakin' SCARY. And I say this after having gone through a housefire - the fire was a shock but once it was there it was there and I could do something. Electric shock? No way to expect or "undo" that. Ugh.
ozma914
Oct. 5th, 2013 05:43 am (UTC)
Yes, it sure will -- but the homeowner is more willing to pay more for fancy woodwork or a bigger bathtub (or granite sinks) than a home sprinkler system, which most people convince themselves they'll never need; so there isn't any popular cry to do the right thing and put the sprinklers in with new construction. Also, there's a popular misconception that when one sprinkler head goes off they all do, so people assume flooding is more of a danger than fire, which just isn't true.

I can't tell you what the real reason might be, but whenever there's a push to require home sprinkler systems, the construction industry actively campaigns against it.
men_mih
Oct. 4th, 2013 02:10 am (UTC)
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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