Cooking-related fires remain the leading cause of residential fires in America. The fire tetrahedron shows the four components necessary for a fire to occur: heat, fuel, oxygen, and a chemical chain reaction that brings them together. Take any of the four components away and a fire cannot occur. The problem is that in the kitchen, the components are brought together more frequently than most other activities in the home. Whatever distracts people causes them to either forget that they are cooking altogetheror delays them long enough for a problem to occur. Cooking-related fires are heavily influenced by the human factor, which means they are preventable but more likely to occur. Here are a few examples of the human factor:
- People falling asleep after putting on something to cook
- A person forgetting that he or she is cooking
- Being distracted by a phone call or something else that draws a person out of the kitchen
- Using a dish towel as a pot holder
- A lack of cleaning on the stove top or in the oven
- Water that gets added to hot oil
- Combustibles too close to the stove top
Changing one’s behavior or mindset is nearly impossible. Most fire departments have chosen to instruct school-age children, with the hope of changing mindsets early on.
To prevent a fire in the kitchen, people must know that the components required for a fire are readily available while cooking. It is important to keep these components away from one another whenever possible. This may sound oversimplified, but common sense applies here. Paper towels too close to a stove burner will ignite. Oil left to heat too long will eventually ignite. A fire on the stove top must be extinguished immediately, or fire will extend to the cabinets. The fire can be covered with a pan top or cookie sheet, removing the oxygen – which is always available in a quantity conducive for a fire – from room air. Once a fire is extinguished, the hot pan should be allowed to cool before moving it. Many, many times people are burned attempting to move a once burning or burning pan from the stove to the sink or from the stove to the outside. Keep in mind: the heat and fuel are still present; it is just waiting for a return of air to reignite.
The two best fire protective devices are smoke alarms and a residential sprinkler system. These devices, when properly placed and operating, allow for the best chance of survival for occupants. If a fire is going to occur, the next best thing is the means to detect, warn of, and extinguish or keep small enough to allow escape of all occupants. More and more multi-family dwellings are being outfitted with smoke alarms and a sprinkler system.
Fires in the kitchen are more prevalent than in any other place in the home. Cooking is a full-time job, so do everything possible to prevent distractions. It is more important to get everyone out of your house when a fire occurs than it is to attempt to extinguish the fire. When a smoke alarm activates, people need to respond appropriately. I do not expect numbers of kitchen fires to go down because I wrote this article, but if it changes your behavior or attitude, then this article has been effective. In order to keep unexpected guests from showing up around your cooking activities, keep your mind on what you are doing.