October 4-10th is Fire Prevention Week, a perfect reminder of the precautions we can take in our homes anytime we head for the kitchen. We caught up with Josephine Park, Public Educator Community Risk Reduction at Toronto Fire Services to learn more about kithchen fires and how they can be prevented.
1. Fresh City: Is there a common misconception about home kitchen fires you'd like to dispel?
Toronto Fire Services: One thing I want to impress upon your community is how little time we have once a fire starts. You have 30 to 45 seconds (or less!) to put out a fire before it is out of your control. That's not a lot of time and every second counts. Start by ensuring that you have done what you can to prevent fires and injury and prepare yourself in advance to act accordingly if a fire does happen. Also a big misconception is that "a fire will never happen to me, only other people". Fire can happen to anybody.
2. FC: Are there certain measures we should all be taking in our kitchens in order to help prevent home kitchen fires and injury?
TFS: Taking preventative measures is definitely the first step to preventing home kitchen fires:
- Keep flammable materials away from heat sources. Cooking can get messy quickly and countertop clutter can accumulate easily. Be mindful of what you have in close proximity to the heat source, such as a stovetop. A misplaced tea towel, paper towel, aerosol can (such as a cooking oil spray) or other flammable object could cause a fire – even if it's not making direct contact with the heat source.
- Wear appropriate clothing in the kitchen. There's a reason why professional chefs and cooks wear their form-fitting uniform with tightly covered arms and legs and shoes. Loose fitting clothing and excess fabric could accidentally ignite. Clothes that are loose or strappy are more likely to get snagged on pots, pulling them off of stovetops.
- If you have young kids or pets around the house, make sure to create a 1m (3 ft.) "Kid/Pet Free Zone" around the stove and food preparation areas. Kids are super-fast and before you know it they're grabbing hot coffee mugs off the counter or reaching for hot stove top elements. This goes for knives, scissors and other sharp implements – keep knives and scissors locked away in blocks or drawers. Keep pot and frying pan handles turned inwards when cooking, away from little hands that could pull them down. And about pets. I have a neighbour whose cat loves to jump into the cabinets and fridge whenever there is an open door. This can be a dangerous interruption especially if you're cooking. I've also heard of many 911 calls involving people who suffer injuries caused by tripping over their dogs who are hovering underfoot.
- Prepare a home escape plan and practice it with your family at least twice a year. In a high-pressure emergency, a well-rehearsed escape plan will allow you to take the right actions to get everyone in your family out safely. So consider your own home, its layout, and exits. And always keep exits clear and uncluttered.
3. FC: What is the recommended course of action to take if a grease fire occurs?
TFS: Grease fires happen when the oil used for cooking becomes too hot. There are three stages to a grease fire: first, it starts to boil. Secondly, it begins to smoke. After this, if the heat is not reduced, it catches on fire. As soon as that happens, it can get out of control quickly, which is why it’s critical for everyone to know what steps to take next. Never throw water on a grease fire. That is the worst thing you can do. If water is poured on a grease fire, it is only going to make the fire much worse. The oil can splash, spreading the fire to the counter, floor and other items. As the water makes contact with the grease and vaporizes, it can carry small particles of grease with it, helping spread the fire. Another common reaction to seeing a fire in a pan on the stove is to move the pot or pan to the sink to try to contain the fire, or to rush outside with the flaming pot. Moving a flaming pot or pan from one location to another is never a good idea, since several things can go wrong. The fire may splash out of the pot or pan as it’s carried through the house, causing other items in the house, such as carpeting or furniture, to ignite. Or it can burn the person carrying the pan, causing them to drop it and create a bigger fire. Here's a tip: Have a pot lid or baking/cookie sheet ready and within easy reach beside the stove. When a grease fire occurs, the first thing to do, if it is safe, is to put that baking/cookie sheet or pot lid on the pan to deprive the fire of oxygen and then turn off the heat source. But what if the fire is already too large by the time it’s noticed? Get yourself and your family out, close any doors behind you (to physically isolate the fire) and call 911 from a safe place. Time is critical when you escape. Don't try to collect any belongings. Your life could be at stake.
4. FC: Could you give us your best tips for Safety 101 when it comes to using a gas or charcoal BBQ?
TFS: USE BBQS OUTDOORS ONLY! They produce carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas that can lead to unconsciousness and even death. Never use or store propane cylinders inside any structure, including houses, sheds or garages. Never leave the BBQ unattended when in use. Make sure grease does not build up on the burners or at the base of the BBQ (see the manufacturer's instructions for how to clean your particular BBQ). Grease caked on to the burners' ports and bottoms of BBQ's could cause a grease fire. As we know, never throw water on a grease fire – this will only spread the flames. Do not place the BBQ close to wooden fences or walls, vinyl siding, or anything that can burn. The area behind your BBQ must be free of anything that can ignite – this is where hot gases escape. When finished barbecuing, turn the gas valve off at the tank first by turning the knob clockwise, then turn off the burner controls so no gas is left in the connecting hose.
For more fire safety information in many different languages, please visit www.toronto.ca/fire