Fire safety reminder: stand by your pan

Jake Matthews
Chief of Fire Prevention KMC Fire and Emergency Services

How often has the doorbell rung or a child interrupted you while you
were cooking, causing you to forget about the chicken you left sizzling
on the stove until smoke filled the house?

Even if this scenario or a similar one doesn’t sound familiar to you, you may want to think about it a little more because it’s likely that you, a friend or a family member has run the risk of having a dangerous fire. I often talk to people about the ways they can stay safe in their homes. Unfortunately, we too often have that talk after they’ve suffered a damaging fire.

It’s my hope that people reading this article won’t have to learn the hard way. If I could give just one fire warning, I’d say, “Stand by your pan.”
Why? Because cooking is the leading cause of home fires, according to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association. The latest statistics from NFPA say that one out of every three home fires start in the kitchen and more than 100,000 fires a year are related to cooking.

We’re joining forces with NFPA and thousands of other fire departments across North America to commemorate Fire Prevention Week Oct. 8 to 14. The theme, “Prevent Cooking Fires – Watch What You Heat,” reminds us that unattended cooking and other unsafe kitchen practices are a recipe for disaster.

Often when we’re called to a cooking-related fire, the residents tell us they only left the kitchen for a few minutes. Sadly, that’s all it takes for a dangerous fire to start. The bottom line is that there’s really no safe period of time for the cook to step away from a hot stove. A few key points to remember:

• Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling, broiling or boiling food. If you must leave the the room even for a short period of time, turn off the stove.
• When you are simmering, baking or roasting food, check it regularly, stay in the home, and use a timer as a reminder.
• Keep cooking areas clean and clear of combustibles (e.g. potholders, towels, rags, drapes and food packaging).
• Keep children away from cooking areas by enforcing a “kid-free zone” of three feet around the stove.
• If you have a fire in your microwave, turn it off immediately and keep the door closed; never open the door until the fire is completely out – if in doubt, get out of the home and call the fire department.
• Always keep an oven mitt and a lid nearby. If a small grease fire starts in a pan, smother the flames by carefully sliding the lid over the pan (make sure you are wearing the oven mitt); turn off the burner and slide the pan off the burner. To keep the fire from restarting, do not remove the lid until it is completely cool. Never pour water on a grease fire. If the fire does not go out, get out of the home and call the fire department.
• If an oven fire starts, turn off the heat and keep the door closed to prevent flames from burning you or your clothing. If the fire does not go out, leave the home and call the fire department.

A cooking fire can quickly turn deadly. I have seen too many homes destroyed and people killed or injured by fires that could have been easily avoided. Please heed the simple safety rules outlined here. We firefighters would like to be in your kitchen, but only when you invite us for dinner.