By Tom Kiurski
For many people, Thanksgiving Day is the beginning of the holiday season. Although sales flyers and decorated shopping centers have all been in place for a while now, the mind of the American says it is okay to begin thinking “holiday” at this time. Ads and television specials may tell us that the holidays are a more relaxed time to spend with family and friends, but don’t let your guard down. Thanksgiving Day also happens to be one of the most dangerous days of the year for residential fires.
According to the United States Fire Administration (USFA) 4,300 fires occur in the United States on Thanksgiving Day. Fifteen deaths and 50 injuries and nearly $27 million in property damage are the result of about 1,450 residential fires on Thanksgiving Day.
Cooking is the leading cause of residential structure fires on Thanksgiving Day. In fact, Thanksgiving Day has more than double the number of residential cooking fires than an average day. Food left unattended is the leading factor in the cause of these fires. On Thanksgiving Day, 2000, a man was killed when a fire started in the kitchen and quickly moved throughout the house. The fire was caused by an electrical malfunction in the stove clock timer.
Remind your citizens to keep cooking appliances in good working order, and start the season with clean stoves and ovens. Make sure any old grease or food spills are cleaned up to lessen the chance of a flare-up. Be sure they have plenty of oven mitts and a working ABC-rated fire extinguisher nearby. Many of your citizens will remember that baking soda will also extinguish small kitchen grease fires. Pot handles should be turned in and the back burners of the stove should be used for cooking whenever possible. This makes it harder for small children to reach pot handles, so they will be less likely to spill hot food onto themselves. Your citizens should not wear loose, puffy clothing when they are cooking, as the lightweight materials are more likely to catch fire, and cooking should never be left unattended.
The increased use of turkey fryers has created new fire safety problems. Many of them have to do with the heating of the oil for frying. The oil temperature must be monitored very closely. If any smoke is noticed coming from the heated pot of oil, turn the burner off because the oil is overheated.
There is also a risk of injury resulting from splashing due to the cooking of partially frozen meats. Thaw the turkey and allow it to fully dry before cooking it in hot oil. Place the fryer in an open area away from structures and monitor it constantly during the heating and cooking processes. Raise and lower the turkey slowly to reduce splatter and cover bare skin when adding or removing food.
By sharing some simple rules of safety, we sincerely hope you, your family and the citizens you serve will have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.
Tom Kiurski is a lieutenant, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book, Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999) is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.