By Tom Kiurski
Livonia firefighter/paramedics responded to a fire in an apartment that started in the kitchen last week. The fire was caused by unattended cooking by the occupants. The fire was quickly extinguished by firefighters, but not before it caused considerable damage. What can we learn about cooking fire safety for those who live in apartments?
Cooking is the No. 1 cause of home fires and home fire injuries in the United States, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Two-thirds of home cooking fires started with the ignition of food or other cooking materials. Frying food poses the greatest risk of fire, while unattended cooking was the leading contributing factor in cooking fires. It is important to stay near the kitchen when cooking so that any mishaps can be quickly identified and remedied. I understand that we occasionally have to change music, get mail and other tasks, but bring a kitchen towel, spatula or hot pad to remind you to get back to your kitchen as quickly as possible.
The other main concern in this apartment fire is the very nature of apartment living. They say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the same can be said of fire safety in an apartment. You can be very conscientious, but if your neighbor engages in risky behaviors, you could also be put at risk. Be active in your apartment community and look out for your neighbors. Your management may be responsible for working smoke alarms, but if you fail to test them and inform the manager of problems, then you may be without the protection they offer.
The protection they offer is only time. Hopefully, the time they give you will be enough to safely escape with your family, but every one of us must take fire alarms seriously. Too often people will “wait and see” or “check it out” before leaving the area, but many times this decision can be deadly. Don't waste time when the alarm sounds.
The apartment was in a multi-story building. Those of us who live on upper floors have additional issues to discuss when thinking about emergency evacuation. If the main door leads to a hallway full of smoke, then close the door and make plans to use the emergency escape that you have identified in your home escape plan. Hopefully, you have already decided which window in your apartment is the safest to escape from. If you have an escape ladder, this is the time to use it and climb to safety. If not, find a window that has a soft landing area under it, like grass. If you must escape out the window and you don't have an escape ladder, fully open the window and straddle it. Then lower your body to full arm's length before dropping to safety. This may sprain an ankle (or worse), but it is better than remaining in an apartment that is threatened by fire.
Take a few minutes right now to test the smoke alarms in your home. Bring your family members with you so they are reminded of the sound of a smoke alarm that is in the alarm mode. Discuss your fire escape plan and practice the plan.
Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.