Blog By: R. Peter Sells, MBA, V.P. & Chief Training Officer
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has chosen the theme “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen™” for Fire Prevention Week 2020, October 4-10, as cooking remains a leading cause of home fires. In fact, the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) lists cooking as the number one cause of residential fires in Ontario. When you consider that we humans have been cooking our food for somewhere between one to two million years, you would think we should have this down by now. Yet, humans behaving badly in the kitchen continues to be a significant cause of financial loss, injury and death in our modern society. Why? Is it complacency, ignorance, carelessness, or a combination of these and other factors? Maybe we can leave that to the anthropologists and focus on our FireRein mantra of “Prevent, Protect, Extinguish”.
About twenty years ago, I researched and delivered a presentation on Human Behaviour in High Rise Emergencies for a fire service symposium. This one tidbit stuck with me. As the city of Cairo, Egypt, was rapidly expanding and replacing traditional housing with high density, multi-storey apartment blocks, problems cropped up when families were transferred into these new buildings. When it came time to cook their first family dinners in their new homes, wood would be gathered, a fire started, and a pot suspended over the fire – right in the middle of the reinforced concrete floor. This sounds ridiculous at first, but when you consider that many of these people had no knowledge of or experience with electricity, let alone modern appliances, it was actually logical that they would continue to cook as they had been cooking for generations.
I came across a slightly less extreme example five years ago, when I designed the course curriculum for a household fire safety program that targeted housemaids and other domestic staff in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Tens of thousands of women were brought into the UAE each year to work in the homes of local and expatriate middle-and upper-class workers. Most of these women were young, not necessarily well-educated, and came from countries in Africa and Asia that don’t have the type of safety culture we are used to in the West. We anticipated many of the linguistic and other cultural issues associated with this intended audience, and designed a course with purely graphical content that was delivered by the female members of our instructional staff. So far, so good. There was one aspect of the technical fire safety information that caused us problems. “Loose, dangling clothing can easily catch fire, so it is best to wear tight-fitting or rolled up sleeves when cooking.” Almost every one of these women were wearing traditional garments that featured full-length, loosely fitted sleeves. Tight-fitting clothing was not acceptable. We solved this issue by including a graphic that showed a woman using her left hand to restrain her right sleeve while using her right hand to hold a utensil as she cooked.
So here we are today, with a literate and well-educated populace, in a society with regulations and standards around health and safety that are generally understood, yet we still burn down our houses with kitchen fires. My fire service colleagues: how many times have you responded to a fire after midnight, caused by a neglected fry basket full of potato wedges, with a drunk resident passed out on the couch? More than once, I would wager. The root causes of fires in the kitchen are, as I suggested above, complacency (lack of concern), ignorance (lack of knowledge), and carelessness (lack of diligence). Here are the tips from the NFPA media release for Fire Prevention Week 2020, “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen!™”:
· Never leave cooking food unattended. Stay in the kitchen while you are frying, grilling or broiling food. If you have to leave, even for a short time, turn off the stove.
· If you are simmering, baking, roasting, or boiling food, check it regularly. Remain in the home while food is cooking, and use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking.
· You have to be alert when cooking. You won’t be alert if you are sleepy, have consumed alcohol, or have taken medicine or drugs that make you drowsy.
· Always keep an oven mitt and pan lid nearby when you’re cooking. If a small grease fire starts, slide the lid over the pan to smother the flame. Turn off the burner, and leave the pan covered until it is completely cool.
· Have a “kid-free zone” of at least 1 metre around the stove and areas where hot food or drink is prepared or carried.
I’ll add one more important tip that applies to commercial kitchens, in restaurants, hotels or hospitals:
· Make sure that grease traps and fume hoods are properly cleaned, maintained and inspected regularly.
This last one is very important for prevention of loss, injury or death due to fire. Consider that each time your automatic extinguishment system activates, your kitchen is out of commission until the system is re-charged and the mess is cleaned up.
FireRein hopes that everyone has a chance to participate in 2020 Fire Prevention Week with their local Fire Department, and to talk to your local experts about the serious topic of kitchen fire safety. For our part, we are here to help you with:
Prevent-ing fires before they start… due to hot work, such as: soldering, cutting, grinding or welding, during repair or renovation work in your home or garage, by implementing HotWorx™ Fire Prevention Hydrogel.
Protect-ing and suppressing kitchen fires due to cooking oil and grease. KitchenWorx™ Fire Protection Hydrogel is a safe and practical choice. Clean-up is made easy by wiping away upon completion, leaves no toxic residue.
Extinguish-ing properties of HotWorx™ and KitchenWorx™ Prevention and Protection sprays include smothering, suppressing and heat removal from specified fire classes. These unique Hydrogel blends are derived from natural polymers that outperform other toxic foams and synthetic polymers. Please refer to manufacturers specifications prior to use. For more information please refer to our website.