The common kitchen fire

The title should speak volumes of a troubling apathy in America. Cooking-related fires continue to be the leading cause of fires in Chesterfield County, the State of Virginia and the United States of America. The most recent fire that made the news in our area was a cooking-related fire that occurred in a multi-family dwelling, or in other words, an apartment complex. If you have read my column over time, you have heard me talk about your need to have renter’s insurance if you live in an apartment setting. You might be the safest person in the world, but what about your neighbors?

I do not know the statistics, but I expect that the majority of apartment fires start in someone’s kitchen. In my home, I have one kitchen to worry about. In a multi-family setting, you could have two or maybe even twelve kitchens to worry about. Let’s break this thing down to the simplest form. Most kitchen fires are going to occur on the stovetop or in the oven. For the fire that occurs in the oven, leave the door closed and turn the oven off, until the fire goes out. If there is smoke in the apartment and the fire is out, open a window. If there is a large amount of smoke, then the fire department will have to come and ventilate the apartment, and possibly even the building. For the fire that starts on the stovetop, things will get a bit more interesting.

The stovetop fire is the one that spreads rapidly. If caught in time, you may be able to slide a cookie sheet or pan top over the burning pan or pot. Isn’t it funny that I am not talking about doing everything possible to prevent the fire, which should be a given? As stated, the stovetop fire will spread to nearby combustibles, including the kitchen cabinets. Once a fire gets beyond the object of origin, a kitchen is set to burn. Smoke alarms and a residential sprinkler system are all that will help, at this point. The smoke alarms will notify building occupants, while the residential sprinkler system will either extinguish or keep the fire in check, until firefighters arrive. Without either, the fire will rapidly progress, until smoke or flames are detected by someone.

I will repeat this message over and over again, until this trend changes. Cooking-related fires are the leading cause of fires in residential dwellings. The costs of kitchen fires not only rests with the occupant, but translates to other occupants, building owners, insurance companies, all the way to the taxpayer. Education is a key component to this, but fire safety education is an area where many departments cut funding, due to an ongoing budget crisis in most jurisdictions. This problem is not thought to be important by most until it visits you in some way. When your home or apartment is destroyed, you cannot bring yourself to think of anything else. I leave you with this old fire safety message, “If you don’t want extra guests for dinner, i.e. firefighters, then you must pay attention while cooking.”    

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