Ask a Firefighter: What can I do to keep Thanksgiving preparations safe?

Ask a Firefighter: What can I do to keep Thanksgiving preparations safe?

The Westerly Sun

House fires are the worst disaster threat to families in the United States and cooking is the main cause of them. The approaching holidays typically mean more time spent in the kitchen preparing meals and treats for family and friends. As you start preparing your holiday schedule and organizing that Thanksgiving feast, make fire safety in the kitchen a priority. Following a few simple safety tips will allow you to enjoy time with your loved ones and keep you and your family safe from fire.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, Thanksgiving is the peak time for home cooking fires, followed by Christmas Day and Christmas Eve. In 2014, U.S. fire departments responded to 1,730 such fires on Thanksgiving Day, nearly four times as many home cooking fires as occur on a typical day.

Unattended cooking is the leading contributing factor in cooking fires and fire deaths. In addition, nearly half of those fires are due to faulty cooking equipment, according to the U. S. Fire Administration, which suggests that you “Stand By Your Pan” and “Keep an Eye on What You Fry.” Stay in the kitchen when you are cooking to keep an eye on the food, and turn the handles of the pots toward the stove, to prevent the pots from being accidentally knocked off. You should also keep a lid or a cookie sheet nearby to cover the pan in case it catches on fire.

The USFA also recommends that you enforce a “kid-free zone” in the kitchen while you are cooking. Make them stay at least 3 feet away from the stove. This is important because it is not just the stove that is hot. Prepared food, hot gravy, steam from vegetables, and hot drinks could also cause serious burns.  

Anyone involved in food preparation should not wear loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking. Ignited clothing accounts for 18 percent of cooking fire deaths. Two-thirds of home cooking fires started when food or other cooking materials caught fire. Keep anything that can catch fire, such as potholders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper bags, food packaging, towels, and curtains away from the stove, oven or any other appliance in the kitchen that generates heat.  It is also a good idea to check the kitchen before going to bed or leaving home to make sure you have turned off all stoves, ovens, and small appliances.

In their continuing efforts to keep you safe, and keep small fires from becoming large fires, your local firefighters urge you to purchase a fire extinguisher to keep in the kitchen.  If you are unfamiliar with the proper use of an extinguisher, we encourage you to contact your local fire department to get training. Firefighters also advise you to install a smoke alarm near the kitchen, on each level of the home, near sleeping areas, and inside and outside your bedrooms. Be sure to use the test button to check it each month and replace all batteries twice a year.

For more information on fire safety in the kitchen, please visit and take their “Fire Safety Quiz” or download “The Red Cross Fire Prevention and Safety Checklist.” NFPA also offers a guide for ideas on what different age groups can do around the kitchen as you prepare for your holiday meal. “Kids in the Kitchen” is a short video available for download at

This column was written by Jane Perkins, fire safety specialist for the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League and Captain of the Watch Hill Fire Department. If you would like to see a question answered in this column, please e-mail her at









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