Fire Prevention Week starts today. This year, firefighters across the country are focusing on a committed awareness to “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen.” This national campaign reminds the public that house fires are a significant threat to families in the United States, and cooking is the main cause of them. Your local firefighters are encouraging residents to remember this simple phrase so they can remain safe.

As the official sponsor of Fire Prevention Week for more than 90 years, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) works with local fire departments throughout the country to promote the campaign in their communities. NFPA’s cooking safety message is timely for several reasons. The United States has seen a decrease in fire-related deaths in almost every major category except deaths from home cooking fires. In fact, home cooking fires are more deadly than they were 30 years ago, killing an average of 550 people a year.

This information is not a surprise considering the pandemic has families home more than ever as they continue to distance-learn, avoid restaurants, entertain at home, and cook meals. These circumstances are due to COVID-19 restrictions and create the potential for an increase in home cooking fires. Fortunately, there are a few things that you can do to stay safe in your kitchen all year.

Home cooking fires and fire deaths occur most often when people leave food unattended, or they do not keep a close eye on what they are cooking. Home cooking fire reports from the United States Fire Administration (USFA) tells us that nearly 50% of those fires are due to faulty cooking equipment. The USFA suggests that you “Stand By Your Pan” and “Keep an Eye on What You Fry.”

They recommend that you stay in the kitchen when you are cooking so you can keep an eye on the food and suggest that you turn pot handles toward the stove, so they are not accidentally knocked off it. 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. Remember to encourage children stay at least three feet away from the stove. This is timely advice with so many children learning at home all day. Always remind children that it is not just the stove that is hot. Prepared food, hot gravy, steam from vegetables, and hot drinks could also cause serious burns.

Two-thirds of home cooking fires start when food or other cooking materials catch fire. Ignited clothing accounts for 18% of cooking fire deaths, so anyone involved in food preparation should not wear loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking. In fact, it is recommended that you 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 continued efforts to keep you safe, and to 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.

Even though your children may be learning from a distance, and you may be working remotely, you can serve up fire safety from the comfort of your own kitchen. Visit the American Red Cross at www.redcross.org for a variety of resources about fire prevention. In addition to taking their “Fire Safety Quiz”, you can download “The Red Cross Fire Prevention and Safety Checklist”.

For more information on fire safety in the kitchen, please visit NFPA at www.nfpa.org. Their website offers a guide for ideas on what different age groups can do around the kitchen as you prepare meals at home and they have a video called “Kids in the Kitchen” that you can download.

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 askafirefighter@yahoo.com.

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