By: Andrea Moyer
Fires + Kitchens = Perfect Match
We all know how quickly a fire can get out of control. It can happen in an instant. I’ve had one sizable fire in my lifetime that I’ve had to control and one major fire that I’ve witnessed and which I’ve had to get someone else better equipped than I to control. Both were house fires.
The first was started by my sweet-natured, kindhearted child (who is now grown, but still recalls vividly the day she nearly burned down the house). The circumstances during which this minor catastrophe occurred were simple and commonplace: I was indulging in one of many naps that I desperately needed in the early years of motherhood while my idle and active eight-year-old decided that she needed to toast something in the toaster oven. Evidently, she was concerned for my well-being and didn’t want to wake me from my nap. I don’t know the details, but apparently when she went to retrieve the toast she learned very quickly that it was too hot to handle and chose as oven mitts two sheets of paper towels. Somewhat inevitably, they ignited, scared her and she dropped the flaming tinder on the linoleum. Only then did she do the wisest thing she could have done: she called for help.
I’m happy to say that no one, not even my daughter, who no doubt learned a very important lesson that day, was injured by any of these proceedings. The worst result of this was a kitchen full of fire extinguisher ash and a reason to replace the linoleum floor, but it could have been very different.
The second and far more serious house fire occurred at the house situated behind ours. For years we’d lived next door to a house that was frankly too small and cramped to qualify as little more than a garage. It was stuffed to overflowing with bits and pieces of accumulated flotsam and one morning just before daybreak we were stunned to look out into our backyard and see a glaring ball of orange. The neighbor’s house had caught fire and I have never been so frightened before then or since. Within seconds we cleared out of our house and called the fire department, the police department and anyone else we could think of who might have a hose and a tank of water. Again, there were minor injuries and no fatalities, for which we are truly grateful, but nonetheless it was a harrowing experience.
Any fire is serious business, whether it’s contained within the coils of the heating element in your oven or an out-of-control conflagration destroying your neighbor’s home. The finest line between a near-tragic but ultimately contained situation and a catastrophe often includes preparation, clear-thinking and attention.
I was prepared to meet my child’s well-intentioned but reckless maneuver with a fire extinguisher, which everyone ought to own and know how to operate. My daughter, in turn, was quick-thinking enough to abandon any worries about waking me and call for help.
The scary house fire took place early one Saturday morning when everyone was at home and still asleep. Although I am convinced that we had angels on our side that fateful morning of the neighbor’s house fire, the conflagration was well established by the time we took any notice. Whoever it was that took my frantic emergency call sounded as though he, too, had just rolled out of bed. It seemed an eternity before I could make him understand that a house fire was in the process of consuming our neighbor’s house and that unless he took some speedy measures to dispatch the fire department, it was very likely to come over and start consuming ours.
In a truly clear-sighted move, my husband had cleared the snow away from the fire hydrant on the side of our house for easy access weeks before. He’s done that every year that we’ve lived in our house so that the hydrant is always accessible. I remember that winter had been a particularly cold one, the snows lasted well into March and the banks and drifts were frozen solid. Had the responsibility of clearing the snow away from the hydrant fallen to the fire department, they’d have been faced with a long and arduous task.
Not surprisingly, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the most common cause of house fires in the United States is cooking equipment. Cooking fires are also responsible for the largest number of fire-related injuries and deaths in the U.S. Toasters and toaster ovens are particulary notorious sources of kitchen fires, not only because of their heating elements, but also because of the possibility of an electrical fire started by a faulty cord. They’re a double threat. Be prepared by doing the following:
- Get a fire extinguisher – there are many smaller varieties available that can be safely (and inconspicuously) stored in a cupboard or cabinet. Know how to operate them safely and effectively as well. For the typical larger extinguishers, you can do no better than to remember to:
P – Pull the pin
A – Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire
S – Squeeze the handle
S – Sweep the nozzle across the flames to extinguish the fire
- Unplug appliances before leaving home, even for short trips.
- Share pertinent information, such as a home security code or house key, with a trusted neighbor who can monitor your home in your absence.
- Invest in a home security device. Insurance discounts might even be available for this feature.
- Have an escape plan in place for your family in the event of a house fire. Go over the plan regularly with family members, especially young children and older persons who may require some extra guidance. You might need to invest in one or two ladder ropes that can be hung outside a second-story bedroom window.
Contact our offices in Perkasie 215-257-9171 and Harleysville 215-723-9805 and let us help you fireproof your home.
Also Read: Estimates: 20% of Homeowners Are Underinsured