By Michael Campbell
Special to GUIDON
Flammable and combustible liquids exist in almost all kitchens on post and around the country.
Their presence continues to be a contributing factor in fires. I’m not referring to poisonous liquids; rather, cooking oil and grease. However, we sometimes fail to underestimate the dangers associated in cooking with combustible liquids.
Despite the fire department’s relentless public education efforts, unattended cooking continues to be the leading cause of fires on Fort Leonard Wood.
While we would never dream of heating gasoline, diesel fuel or rubbing alcohol over a stove — let alone walk away from it — many people rarely hesitate to heat cooking oil or grease on the stove-top.
Scarier yet, this has been the case in almost all kitchen fires on post. When occupants start cooking they will put oil in the pan, turn on the burner and walk away. If we look at cooking oil and grease as a combustible liquid, we would be less likely to walk away. When exposed to heat, cooking oil and grease can be equally as deadly as the previously mentioned flammable liquids. It only takes seconds for the cooking oil to create a potentially deadly house fire.
So, are you cooking with combustible liquids?
If you are cooking with cooking oil or grease, your answer should be a resounding “yes.” Can it be done safely? Of course it can — as long as you remember that cooking oil and grease are indeed flammable, combustible liquids and must be treated with a heightened level of respect.
The Fort Leonard Wood Fire Department offers these tips to ensure safe cooking and reduce the probability that your three-course meal doesn’t become a three-alarm fire:
— Never leave cooking unattended. This is perhaps the single most important precaution you can take.
— When cooking with grease and oil, start at a low temperature setting and gradually increase the temperature.
— Use a cooking thermometer to monitor the grease or oil temperature.
— Do not overfill a pan or allow water (or frost) to get into the oil. The oil will splatter and, upon coming in contact with the burner or flame, immediately ignite.
— Have a secure-fitting lid nearby the stove.
— Always keep children away from the stove.
— If a fire does occur, it is very important to respond swiftly and appropriately to reduce the chances of injury, death or fire spread.
— Order everyone out of the house.
— Do not move the pan and never put water on a cooking fire. Both will cause rapid fire spread. Instead, discharge a class-B fire extinguisher into the pan or toss handfuls of baking powder into the pan from a safe distance. The goal is to eliminate oxygen from the fire by covering the surface of the fire with the powder.
— If you do not have a class-B fire extinguisher handy, while wearing an oven mitt, approach the pan from a crouched position and slide the lid over the pan.
— Turn off the heat.
— Even if you think you have the fire out, do not move the pan. The oil will retain heat for hours and could burst into flames again at anytime.
— Call 911 to summon the fire department.
— If at any time you have doubt about your ability to safely extinguish the fire, or the ability of any of the home’s occupants to immediately exit the house, do not try to fight the fire. Get everyone out of the house, close all doors behind you and call 911 from outside of the home.
By eliminating the practice of unattended cooking on post, we can eliminate almost all fires in family and single-Soldier housing.
For more information on safe cooking, or for any fire safety information, contact Fort Leonard Wood Fire Department’s Prevention section at 573.596.0886.
(Editor’s note: Campbell is a fire inspector with the Fort Leonard Wood Fire Department.)