Fire prevention, safety a top priority

by Tech. Sgt. Katherine Berndt
52nd Civil Engineer Squadron

Fires attributed to cooking have been one of the leading causes of structure fires for U.S. personnel in Germany. The types of materials typically ignited during cooking are fats, oils and grease. The leading cause is unattended cooking.

During the past 18 months, Saber housing has sustained three cooking-related fires, all resulting from individuals leaving hot food unattended. The last incident occurred Jan. 26. Several straightforward and easy steps can be taken to prevent cooking-related fires and even further, to protect you from injury, should a cooking fire occur.

One common trend in these past incidents was the stove tops were turned to the high setting and left unattended. For obvious reasons this temperature setting can be dangerous, so be sure to follow cooking instructions. If a food is required to be cooked at a high setting, it must be constantly attended.

Care should be taken when cooking with oil or butter, or with other greasy foods that are highly flammable. These can easily splatter or spill from pots and pans, especially if the handle is knocked. Care must be taken to rotate the handle of the pot or pan so it is inside the confines of the cook top and not sticking out. Cooking aids are also available to limit grease splattering, such as tops and screens that fit over the pan or pot.

Common sense dictates that alcohol, such as wine and liquor, used in food preparation is extremely flammable and caution should be taken when used for cooking. Loose-fitting or long-sleeved clothing, especially synthetic fibers, should not be worn while cooking, as the cloth may ignite and potentially cause serious injuries.

Be cautious when leaving food cooking for any period of time, even if just answering the telephone or talking with others. Keep materials such as paper boxes and plastic bottles away from the stove area. Don’t forget, you’re not finished cooking until you’ve double checked to make certain all dials on stove and oven are off. This step alone can mitigate many fires.

Do not attempt to extinguish grease-based fires with water, as the two compounds react very violently. Small grease fires can be extinguished by placing a cover on the pan and turning off the heating element. Do not use flour, baking soda or towels to extinguish the fire.

Fire extinguishers should be clearly visible and easy to reach from the stovetop. As with any safety item, be sure you know how to use the extinguisher. Often times, many kitchen fires happen quickly, with heated items reaching their highest flammability point and spontaneously combusting. The use of extinguishers can prevent small fires from spreading.

Check your fire extinguisher periodically to ensure it is in proper condition. If your extinguisher is not i
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n good working condition, exchange it for a new one at the housing maintenance office.

Ensure visitors at your residence practice safe cooking methods and are aware of how to contact the fire department should an incident occur. One more tip is to consider renter’s insurance. It’s very inexpensive and could save you headaches and money in situations you least expect.

No matter how small the fire is, call the Fire Department at DSN 117 or commercial 0656561-117. If living off base call 112.

For more information, contact the Fire Prevention Office at 452-5292.

Remember the acronym PASS to operate your fire extinguisher:
Pull the pin
Aim low at base of fire
Squeeze silver carrying handle
Sweep nozzle side to side

For German extinguishers:
Press 1 (activates nitrogen)
Press 2 (expels dry chemical)

Be sure to stand 8 – 10 feet from the fire with your back toward an unobstructed exit.