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November 24th, 2020

home fireWith more cooking taking place around the holidays, the chance for house fires also increases. Practice safety during the holidays to prevent dangerous and costly home fires. Courtesy photoELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 172,900 home structure fires per year started by cooking activities between 2014 to 2018, and those fires caused an average of 550 civilian deaths, 4,820 reported civilian fire injuries, and more than $1 billion in direct property damage per year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. 

Home fires caused by cooking peaked at Thanksgiving and Christmas. In 2018, fire departments responded to an average of 470 home cooking fires per day. Ranges or cooktops were involved in the 61 percent of reported home cooking fires, 87 percent of cooking fire deaths and 78 percent of cooking fire injuries.

With such numbers being reported, and with Thanksgiving being just next week, there are some safety precautions people must keep in mind as they look to preparing this year’s Thanksgiving meal. 

shelter article new 2 sept

“For this year, I think we should start with another angle on safety – with what's going on with COVID-19 and the number of cases and things like that, my belief is here in Seward County and also statewide, there's some discouragement on having the really big family meals with a lot of people around, and I know at the most recent Seward County Commission meeting there was talk about gathering restrictions and there was the discussion about having a county-wide mask mandate,” Liberal Fire Chief Kelly Kirk said. “So for this year, I would say the larger gatherings are being discouraged. That being said, however, Thanksgiving is traditionally a big meal that involves a lot of cooking and time in the kitchen, so there are some safety precautions people need to take with that. First off, the kitchen, historically, is one of the most dangerous places in a house in regard to fires, it's just simply a combination of hot things in close proximity to things that are flammable, whether it's old grease, towels, paper towels, or things like that. I encourage people to keep things as clean as possible and keep the cooking area as clear as possible of possible fire hazards.” 

Kirk also advised giving the oven and stove top a good cleaning before the big meal preparation.

“We advise that cleaning so there's no old, built up grease or old food bits that can catch fire – a lot of the fires we deal with around Thanksgiving are because there was some type of buildup that caught fire,” Kirk said. “So do some cleaning ahead of time and especially with grease fires, I can't emphasize enough to not use water to extinguish one of those, use a fire extinguisher or find something that will help suffocate it – for example, if there's something you're cooking in a particular pot or pan, make sure there's the proper size lid for it so if something does go slightly awry, you can use the lid to suffocate it before something bad happens. However, if the situation is such that you don't feel comfortable or if you know you can't control it, get out of the house and get ahold of the fire department. If a fire starts inside the oven, turn the heat off and cut off the heat source – an oven, by nature, is designed to handle pretty high temperatures and if you leave the oven door closed and have the heat source cut off, an oven fire will suffocate itself.”

Should a situation unfortunately happen, Kirk said the most important thing is getting to safety. 

“Most importantly, get out of the house and stay out, get everyone out – that's something we emphasize during our fire safety programs we do at the elementary schools along with crawling under the smoke and getting to an agreed upon meeting spot outside,” Kirk said. “Then call 911 from outside the home and don't let anyone go back in – there's nothing in the house worth your life and if you're lucky enough to get out once, stay out and stay safe because you probably won't be quite so lucky a second time. And it's not the fire itself that kills people most of the time, it's the carbon monoxide and all the other poisons that are in the smoke that will kill you, and all it takes is a few breaths to knock you out and incapacitate you.”

Even with the large nationwide numbers reported, Kirk said Liberal is actually rather quiet around the Thanksgiving holiday in regard to fire calls. 

“I wouldn't say we see a spike or major surge in fire calls this time of the year, but I will say in my time with the fire department, we DO see at least one fire call related to cooking/preparation of a meal around this time of year – it's very rare for this time of the year for us to not get at least one call for that,” Kirk said. “But I wouldn't say we see a major surge or uptick like some of the bigger cities. It's the nature of everyone in the community gathering to celebrate the holiday, so something is bound to happen – sometimes it's a fire call, sometimes it's a medical emergency call, we're prepared to deal with whatever type of call(s) we get. We don't change our staffing around the holidays, we keep that pretty steady, and we just make sure we're prepared for whatever comes in. Our fire department is set up in staffed in a really great way and we have enough people on staff so we're prepared for everything. What we worry about, however, is there being multiple significant calls, like if there's a structure fire and then a multi-vehicle accident at the same time – we're well staffed, but if there's a situation like that for us, that will stretch out our resources really thin and that could cause us to not respond the way we want to. That's really something we worry about more than anything since we do live in a smaller town.”

Overall, Kirk said, he hopes people take the necessary precautions both health-wise and in the kitchen with their Thanksgiving meal this year. 

“I'm hoping people are taking COVID-19 seriously and will limit what they do as far as holiday gatherings and things like that – I hope the trend for this year is more people stay home with smaller and more immediate family groups,” Kirk said. “That's an expectation I have as far as that and then otherwise, the weather for that day looks really good and I think people will be able to be outside more, and maybe that will help as far as social distancing and things like that. I hope overall people will take things seriously and take as many precautions as they can. We always encourage people to be fire-safe at home or the particular environment they're in. For this time of the year especially, make sure the smoke detectors are working and check them regularly and change the batteries – that's one of the best precautions a home can take so they can get that notification so you can have the time to get outside and make your escape. Once a significant fire starts, the damage is already done and the best thing you can do is avoid injury as much as possible. So make sure all your smoke detectors are working and ready to go, and make sure everyone knows the escape plan should something happen. Also, a little cleaning can go a long way since a lot of fires are due to grease/old food buildup, and be sure to make your cooking area is as cleared as possible.”

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