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Kitchen fires - fight or flight?
Jul 08, 2011

By Tom Kiurski


What if you turned around in your kitchen to look at your recipe, and the pan you are cooking in caught fire? Would you grab the burning pan and head outside, or would you use water from the nearby sink to douse the flames? Actually, both of those options are wrong, and could put you and your home at risk. The safest response to a small pan fire is to slide a tight-fitting lid over the pan and turn off the heat to the burner.

Cooking fires are the leading cause of home fires in the United States, and you need to know how to respond to them if the situation should arise. The four things you want to quickly determine are:

  • What is burning?
  • Is the fire small enough to fight?
  • If you decide to fight the fire, do you know how to put that fire out, and
  • Are you confident in your abilities to fight the fire?

    Back to the original scenario, and why both options are wrong and potentially dangerous: If you grab the burning pan and start to head outside with it, the air movement will cause the flames to move toward your body, probably burning your hand and arm and causing you to drop the burning pan inside the home, further spreading the fire.

    The second option of using water to douse the fire is wrong because you never pour water on a grease fire. This causes a fire to spread because water is heavier than the grease, so it goes to the bottom of the pan. The heat causes the water to turn to steam, lifting the burning products up and over the pan and onto the cooking surface.

    The first item to determine is what is burning. If it is grease or oil from cooking, it is a flammable liquid fire, and water should never be an option. Take a look at the fire and decide if it is small enough to fight. The rule of thumb is if you can name the item burning, such as the pan, the toaster or the garbage can, you may consider fighting the fire. If it is beyond the one item you can name, it is probably too big for you to fight.

    If you decide to fight the fire, you need to know how to put that type of fire out. This means that you have to determine which class of fire it is categorized as, and you need to know if you have the means to put that type of fire out. The three main types of fires are: ordinary combustibles, flammable liquids and electrical equipment, and each one must be fought with different types of extinguishing agents.

    Finally, you need to determine if you are confident in your ability to fight the fire. This means making sure you have the first steps completed, and that you have been trained on what to do. In addition to sliding a lid on a pan fire and turning off the burner, you may also use a charged fire extinguisher with at least a “B” rating. Keep in mind that during this stressful event, you will need to make sure everyone is aware of the fire, evacuating the house and calling the fire department.

    Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.

IAFF Local 1164
14910 Farmington Rd.
Livonia, MI 48154

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