By Tim Poe, American Red Cross Volunteer
On Thanksgiving loved ones gather to celebrate togetherness and express gratitude while sharing a feast. Some will also be assisting others, such as first responders, medical professionals and members of the American Red Cross’ Disaster Action Team (DAT). They will likely be busy. Last year’s Thanksgiving weekend, for example, saw Northern Ohio Red Cross DAT responders help 70 people who experienced home fires. They also continued aiding 80 residents displaced by an apartment fire earlier that week.
As wondrous as Thanksgiving is, home fires are a serious risk. The National Fire Protection Association states that cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries, and that Thanksgiving is the leading day for home fires caused by cooking equipment. Other peak days for home cooking fires are Christmas Day, the day before Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas Eve.
I asked Jani Memorich, a Northern Ohio DAT leader, for her perspective. She said, “My experience as a DAT responder has shown me the horrible effects a cooking fire can have on a family and their home. It seems like such a simple thing to avoid and yet it happens all the time. Even when someone doesn’t think what they are doing will end in a fire, it only takes seconds before it all goes wrong. Staying awake and keeping other items away from the stove seem to be two precautions most circumvented on the cooking fires I have responded to. Should the worst case scenario occur, every home should have a fire plan and everyone in the household should know what to do in the case of fire.”
Jani offered this cooking safety tip: Create a list of food and when to prep and cook it. “So many of our dishes take several steps,” she said, “and if you put it down on paper, it takes much of the guess work out. It’s almost like a recipe for the day!” Jani added, “Also, a lot of things happen about an hour out from turkey completion so having a checklist will help you keep it straight and on track. Hopefully eliminating stress helps eliminate mishaps in the kitchen!”
To keep you and your loved ones safe, please follow these cooking safety tips:
- Never leave frying, grilling or broiling food unattended. If you leave the kitchen for even a moment, turn off the stove. In short, “Keep an eye on what you fry!”
- Do not use the stove if you may fall asleep. I often saw the results of this as a disaster responder.
- Move flammable items such as dishtowels, bags, boxes, paper and curtains away from the stove. Also keep children and pets at least three feet away.
- Avoid wearing loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking.
- Clean cooking surfaces on a regular basis to prevent grease buildup.
- Fires can start when the heat is too high. When frying, turn the burner off if you see smoke, or grease starts to boil. Carefully remove the pan from the burner.
- Keep a pan lid or a cookie sheet nearby. Use it to cover the pan if it catches on fire. This will put out the fire. Leave the pan covered until completely cooled.
- Turn pot handles to the back of the stove, so no one bumps them or pulls them over.
- Use a timer to remind yourself the stove or oven is on.
- Limit the amount of people in the cooking area. Besides lessening the chances of a burn or cut, it will also lower the stress of those preparing food.
- Oven mitts or items designed to carry hot plates/serving bowls are better at preventing burns than dish towels.
- Consider purchasing a fire extinguisher for your kitchen. Contact your local fire department to take training on proper use.
- Check the kitchen before going to bed or leaving home to ensure all stoves, ovens and small appliances are off.
Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving!
Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer