It might surprise many people to learn that cooking is the number one cause of house fires in B.C., and that unattended cooking is the leading cause of fires in the kitchen.
The theme of this year’s Fire Prevention Week (Oct. 4–10) is “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen”, and the aim is to educate people about how they can keep themselves safe in the kitchen.
Since 1922, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has sponsored the public observance of Fire Prevention Week. Here in B.C., the provincial government observes and promotes Fire Prevention Week, and across the province local fire departments hold a variety of events to raise awareness of fire safety and prevention.
Many of these events have been cancelled or curtailed this year because of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean people can be complacent about fire safety. The Cache Creek Volunteer Fire Department has been sponsoring a contest on Facebook, challenging people to send in their best kitchen fire safety tips for a chance to win a prize.
Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries in Canada. The majority of reported home fires started in the kitchen, and most start with the ignition of food or other cooking materials. This year’s campaign is working to educate everyone about simple but important actions they can take to keep themselves and those around them safe.
“We know cooking fires can be prevented,” says Lorraine Carli, vice-president of outreach and advocacy at NFPA. “Staying in the kitchen while cooking, using a timer, and avoiding distractions such as electronics or TV are steps everyone can take to keep families safe in their homes.”
Cache Creek Fire Chief Tom Moe knows this only too well from his many years on the fire department, and points to a recent situation that he and his crew encountered.
“Two weeks ago we had a call to one of the apartment buildings in Cache Creek,” he says. “The resident had put a pot of water on the stove to boil, then took his dog outside.
“However, he put the wrong burner on, and a pile of old newspapers beside the stove caught fire. There was a lot of smoke, but luckily some neighbours were able to put the fire out before we got there.”
It’s a warning, says Moe, that it doesn’t take long for a kitchen fire to start, which is why he suggests having a 2.5 pound Class ABC fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
“That’s the ideal size for a kitchen. It’s good for pretty much any fire you’d find in a kitchen. If you do have a fire extinguisher, shake it up once a year to get the powder loose inside it, otherwise it hardens, and doesn’t spray as well or at all.”
Smoke detectors are another good idea, although Moe doesn’t recommend having one in the kitchen.
“I personally would put it outside the kitchen, otherwise every time you cook it’ll be going off. A room or hall adjacent to the kitchen would be good. And never bring a barbecue into the house. There’s a very real risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, as well as smoke.”
He adds that having a safety plan in case of fire is important.
“If your houses catches fire, you need to have a plan about a way out and a space to meet outside to make sure everyone is safe.
“Involve kids with making it. We have the ‘Get Out Alive’ plan for kids, and when I go into classrooms I ask kids what they would do if their house caught on fire. Most of them have some idea about what to do, and I think that a lot of parents have gone over it with their children, which is a good thing.”
He adds that once you have a fire safety plan in place, practice it twice a year. “You have fire drills in schools; why not have them at home?”
Moe says that one simple safety tip he practices in the kitchen, especially when his grandchildren are around, is turning pot handles away from the front so that they can’t be caught or knocked over. Before you or someone else in your family gets creative in the kitchen, there are a few more safety tips that together make up a perfect recipe that will prevent you from having a cooking fire.
• 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 taken medicine or drugs, or have consumed alcohol that makes you drowsy.
• Wear short sleeves, or roll them up, while you’re cooking so that they don’t catch fire.
• 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 one metre around the stove and any areas where hot food or drink is prepared or carried.
• Keep pets out of the kitchen while you’re cooking.
• Keep items that could catch fire — such as oven mitts, tea towels, wooden utensils, and food packaging — away from the stove.
This year the Province is running poster and video contests open to students in all grades around B.C. Poster artwork may be drawn on any Fire Prevention Week subject (including burn and scald prevention, fire prevention, fire escape planning, smoke alarms, carbon monoxide safety, etc.) and submitted by mail or email.
Prizes are being awarded in three age categories (Kindergarten to Grade 3, Grades 4 to 6, and Grades 7 to 12) in zones throughout the province. Submissions must be received by Oct. 23, 2020 and can be mailed to the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund, 3891 Main Street, Vancouver, B.C. V5V 3P1, or emailed to FirePreventionWeek@burnfund.org.
Students can also create videos (maximum three minutes in length) that contain a strong Fire Prevention Week message on a topic of their choosing. All styles of video will be accepted: drama, comedy, documentary, music video, stop-motion, claymation, or animation. There are two grade categories: Kindergarten to Grade 6 and Grades 7 to 12. Submissions must be posted on YouTube, with a link sent via email to FirePreventionWeek@burnfund.org no later than Oct. 23.