T here are not many times when I am outside that I do not hear the siren and air horn of a piece of fire apparatus, an ambulance, or a police car, responding to a call for help somewhere in Chesterfield County. For fire and EMS, the large majority of calls for help are medical in nature, but fire departments still run a fair amount of fire-related incidents. The bread and butter of the fire service is the single-family dwelling, with the number one cause still being unattended cooking. There may be days when a certain fire cause, such as fireworks, may take the lead, but when you look back over a significant period of time, fires in the kitchen are the true culprits.
It is a proven fact that people are a part of the weak link in this chain of events leading to a home catching on fire. For a fire to occur, it takes heat, fuel, and oxygen. The fourth element is the chemical chain reaction that brings these three together in the right amount, at the right time. If any one of the three sides of the fire triangle are removed, or any one side of the fire tetrahedron are removed, then a fire cannot and will not occur. This is the part that the human factor plays in this equation, but fires continue to occur daily. The much-needed Band-Aids for the problem are smoke alarms and residential sprinkler systems. I call them Band-Aids because they do nothing to prevent something from occurring, but, in many cases, prevent something from being worse than it could have been, had they not been present.
If you have read my articles for the 18+ years that I have been writing them, then you have heard this conversation numerous times over. When it comes to this subject, I am passionate about the message, but realize that during the time that I am writing this article, there are fire units somewhere responding to a kitchen fire. Preventing a kitchen fire from occurring is very easy; it requires attention to detail. Once the stovetop or oven is turned on, there must be constant attention given to the task at hand. Cooking requires 100 percent of our attention, from start to finish. The problem is the plethora of distractions that we allow to interrupt us. Notice that I say, “that we allow to interrupt us.” Everything from a phone call, to social media, to sleep, to even forgetting that you were cooking altogether and leaving your home, for whatever reason.
If you must leave the kitchen while cooking, take the largest cooking utensil with you to remind you that you are cooking. There are certain cooking activities during which you should never leave the kitchen; one is heating up cooking oil. I cannot tell you the number of significant fires that have been caused by this one event. Cooking oil-related fires are tricky to deal with. Once the oil is hot enough to ignite, it stays hot even after being extinguished. For instance, a fire occurs on your stovetop due to a pan of oil being unattended. You come in and find the pan of oil on fire and cover it with some type of lid. The lid will cut off the oxygen, smothering the fire. The heat and fuel are still present. If it can be safely done, you need to turn the burner off as well. If the oxygen is reintroduced right away, then the pan of oil will reignite. This is why you should leave the pan where it is, on the stovetop, until the oil has cooled. Attempting to remove the pan usually results in re-ignition of the oil and burns to the person trying to remove the pan.
As I stated earlier, the human factor is a weak link in this equation because many are oblivious to the dangers associated with fires in the home, in general much less fires that occur from unattended cooking. We label these types of fires accidental, but in all honesty, though there is no mal-intent, fires caused by humans that could have been prevented need to labeled as negligent. I still like a fire prevention tactic, used in a Maryland town. When fires occur in single-family dwellings, permission from the occupants, and measures are taken by the fire service, to make the home as safe as possible, and then tours are given, to other neighbors, showing them what a house fire looks like up close and personal. The only thing that will turn the human factor from a negative to a positive is a radical change of behavior where fires are concerned. Are you listening?