WHEELING — With a swell of fire calls nationwide during the holiday season, Wheeling firefighters are urging would-be chefs and culinarians to keep safety a top priority.
In 2015, U.S. fire departments responded to 1,760 home cooking fires on Thanksgiving, a rate four times higher than the average day. Wheeling Fire Department Captain Deric Jamison said the most critical part of quashing potential fires is vigilance.
“Unattended cooking is the biggest factor in kitchen fires,” Jamison said. “Not even leaving to go to the store — just going into the other room. You leave, come back, the stove’s on fire.”
“If you have to step away from the stove, shut it off. Turn it back on when you come in,” he added. “That’s, by far, the most common cause (of a fire).
In addition to the fire risk, Jamison said other injuries could arise from lack of attention. In particular, he advised keeping children at least 3 feet away from hot cooking surfaces, and preferably engaged with activities in another room.
“They’ll reach up, so you want to keep the handles turned. Keep children and pets at least 3 feet away while you’re using it,” he said.
For turkey fryers, Jameson advised using them outside, away from the home and garage, as well as not on top of a wooden deck. Crucial to this process, he said, was the importance of defrosting the turkey in question ahead of time, and drying it off before dunking the bird.
“Water and oil don’t mix — when the ice melts and the water hits it, that just goes everywhere. My brother ended up doing that — once.”
“Common sense goes a long way,” he said. “People panic. Things tend to get worse. If you can stay calm, use your common sense, you’ll have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.”
Additionally, Jamison pointed out that some homes may not have a large number of electric plugs, and that stringing them across walkways or at a low level could invite them to snag and tip appliances over, posing another set of hazards.
He also said the roasting pan for any turkeys being cooked should be large enough to accommodate the food, as errant grease drippings coming off a turkey could fall onto a heating element in an oven and also cause a fire.
Jamison said in the event of a fire, families should evacuate a home and call 911 rather than put themselves at risk attempting to fight it themselves.
“Close the oven door if it’s not already closed, turn the heat off and call 911,” he said. “Something bad happens, panic sets in, adrenaline starts pumping and you start making mistakes. … If you do have a fire, get out and stay out.”
Jamison reiterated that working smoke detectors save lives — advice which he said he knows is oft-repeated, but is a perennial favorite of fire departments because of its importance.
“The information that’s repeated is repeated because it’s accurate, and they’re good points to make,” he said. “Pay attention to what you’re doing.”