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Stand by your pan to avoid cooking fires
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How often has the doorbell rung or a child interrupted you while you were cooking, causing you to forget about the chicken you left sizzling on the stove — until smoke filled the house?
If this scenario, or a similar one, sounds familiar, you may want to think about it a little more because it’s likely that you, a friend or family member has run the risk of having a dangerous fire.
As chief of the Bryan County Emergency Services, I often talk to people about the ways they can stay safe in their homes. Too often, we have that talk after they’ve suffered a damaging fire. It’s my hope that people reading this article won’t have to learn the hard way.
If I could give just one fire warning, I’d say, “Keep an eye on what you fry!”
Why? Because cooking is the leading cause of home fires, according to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association. The latest statistics from NFPA say United States fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 156,600 cooking-related fires from 2007-11.
We’re joining forces with NFPA and thousands of other fire departments across North America to commemorate Fire Prevention Week from Oct. 6-12, themed “Prevent Kitchen Fires.” The theme reminds us that leaving cooking unattended and other unsafe kitchen practices are recipes for disaster.  
Often when we’re called to a cooking-related fire, the residents say they only left the kitchen for a few minutes. Sadly, that’s all it takes for a dangerous fire to start. The bottom line is that there’s really no safe period of time for the cook to step away from a hot stove.
A few key points to remember:
• Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling or broiling food. If you must leave the room even for a short period of time, turn off the stove.
• Keep cooking areas clean and clear of combustibles (potholders, towels, rags, drapes and food packaging, etc.).
• Keep children away from cooking areas by enforcing a “kid-free zone” of 3 feet around the stove. Use the stove’s back burners whenever possible when children or pets are around.
• If you have a fire in your microwave, immediately turn it off and keep the door closed. Never open the door until the fire is completely out. If in doubt, get out of the house and call the fire department.
• Always keep an oven mitt and a lid nearby. If a small grease fire starts in a pan, smother the flames by carefully sliding the lid over the pan (make sure you are wearing the oven mitt). Turn off the burner. Do not move the pan. To keep the fire from restarting, do not remove the lid until it is completely cool. Never pour water on a grease fire. If the fire does not go out, get out of the home and call the fire department.
• If an oven fire starts, turn off the heat and keep the door closed. If the fire does not go out, get out of the home and call the fire department.
• When cooking, wear clothing with tight-fitting sleeves.
Please heed these simple safety rules. We firefighters would like to be in your kitchen, but only when you invite us for dinner!

Howell is chief of the Bryan County Emergency Services.

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