Our English language is full of idioms, phrases like, “it is raining cats and dogs” or “it is raining buckets.” I just walked in and told my wife that it was “lightning up a storm.” If you ask a firefighter, “What caused that fire?” the answer given is often: “Food on the stove.” This answer might baffle most, but makes perfect sense if you understand the words left out of the statement. Two recent kitchen fires on the same day in Chesterfield County displaced two families. Cooking-related fires account for the largest number of single-family and multi-family dwelling fires. When I left the job in 2010, cooking-related fires accounted for 3.7 out of every 10 residential fires. I seriously doubt that this number has decreased. With neighborhoods being built in every nook and cranny of undeveloped land in Chesterfield County, the number seems to have nowhere to go but up. I have tried every clever way to talk about this problem in our society, while engines and ladders continue to stay busy.
What is the issue? The kitchen is the one room in the house where the four elements necessary to have a fire come together; heat, fuel, oxygen and the chemical chain reaction to bring them all together. When you are cooking, the expectation is to take food from raw and thawed to cooked, not for a person to fall asleep while cooking or get distracted by any number of things. In my years on the job, I can remember going to homes and apartments with kitchens on fire and no one home. When the occupants got home, their statement often was: “We forgot that we were cooking.” As Graham used to say: “You can’t write this stuff.” In other words, we could not make these stories up if we tried.
How do we address this issue? We must all realize that the kitchen is the room in our houses where the majority of residential fires occur. This is the room where the possibility of a fire and the probability of a fire are both high. We must be prepared for when a fire occurs in the kitchen vs. if a fire occurs. If this is the case, we have to take intentional steps to prevent a fire from occurring.
These steps include:
•What can I do to keep from being distracted while cooking?
•What can I do to keep from falling asleep while cooking?
•What unsafe habits do I need to stop doing while I am cooking?
•Do I need to clean the area around the stove?
•Do I have combustibles too close to the stove top?
When a kitchen fire occurs, what will you do?
Here are some considerations:
How will you quickly extinguish a fire? One of the elements must be taken away. You smother the fire with a pan top or cookie sheet. If it can be done safely, turn off the burner. Put baking soda on the fire. Many people get burned by trying to remove a pan from the hot burner. Do you have a fire extinguisher close by? Do you know how to use it? Is the fire department on the way?
Does your family know that the kitchen is on fire? Properly located and properly working smoke alarms are the best way for your family to be warned of a fire. Does your family have a practiced home escape plan?
Food on the stove does not cause a fire. The human act of leaving food on the stove for too long is what causes the fire that starts in the pan, extends beyond the pan, burns the cabinets and lights off the kitchen.
Fire-related injury numbers are high from this cause. You must know how you will react when a cooking-related fire occurs.
Though many will attempt to fight this kind of fire, your primary responsibility is to get your family and yourself out of the house safely. Leave firefighting to the ones trained to fight them.