Arnold Fire and Emergency Services urges Arnold AFB personnel to practice safe cooking

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks
  • AEDC Public Affairs

The recipe is simple.

Take a pinch of inattention, add a dash of carelessness and mix in a tad of neglect.

The result of this concoction is disaster. At best, the unpalatable creation can leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. At worst, it can result in the loss of life.

Fire officials across the nation, including those with Arnold Air Force Base Fire and Emergency Services, want everyone to avoid these ingredients at all costs, as it doesn’t take much of any one of them to create a potentially lethal kitchen catastrophe.

Fire Prevention Week is Oct. 8-14. The theme of this year’s campaign is “Cooking safety starts with YOU. Pay attention to fire prevention.” The goal of the campaign is to educate people about simple but important actions they can take when cooking to keep themselves and those around them safe.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, which has sponsored Fire Prevention Week for more than a century, cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries in the U.S. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of cooking fires and deaths.

“We want everyone to be aware of the dangers of unattended cooking,” said Arnold FES Fire Prevention and Communication Officer Christian Lyle. “We ask that base-assigned personnel, whether that’s active duty, Department of Defense civilians or contractors, remain alert, limit distractions and keep safety at the forefront while cooking. We want everyone to stay safe so we can continue to support the mission. Everybody here is vital to that mission and to our support of the warfighter.”

From 2014 to 2018, fire departments throughout the U.S. responded to an estimated average of 172,900 home structure fires per year started by cooking activities, according to the NFPA. These fires caused an average of 550 civilian deaths, 4,820 reported civilian fire injuries and more than $1 billion in direct property damage each year.

Over that period of time, unattended equipment accounted for 31 percent of home cooking fires. That’s more than triple the percentage of any other factor.

“One thing that gets me about the statistic about cooking fires being the leading cause of home fires and that unattended cooking is the number one cause of cooking fires is the fact that it’s clearly avoidable,” said Arnold FES Fire Inspector Guy Chastain. “We could reduce the number of fires around the nation just through people remaining attentive while preparing their meals.”

The NFPA recommends that people remain alert while cooking. Those who are feeling sleepy or have consumed alcohol should not use the stove or stovetop.

People are urged to remain in the kitchen while frying, boiling, grilling or broiling food. If someone must leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, he or she should turn off the stove.

Those simmering, baking or roasting food should check on the food regularly and remain in the home while the food is cooking. The use of a timer to serve as a reminder that food is being cooked is encouraged.

Items that can catch fire, such as oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels or curtains, should be kept away from the stovetop.

Along with watching what you heat and keeping a close eye on what is being cooked, there are several additional steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of a cooking fire or cooking-related injury.

Those cooking should turn pot handles toward the back of the stove, especially if children are in the home. The creation of a 3-foot “kid-free zone” around the stove and areas where hot food and drink are prepared is also recommended. Children and pets should be kept out of this zone when cooking.

Lyle added those cooking should keep a fire extinguisher nearby and ensure it is easily accessible.

“Don’t have it in the pantry closet behind the dog food and the cat food,” he said.

Chastain said it is also a good idea for those cooking to keep the lid to the pan they are using in close proximity. In the event of a fire in the cooking pan, the lid can be used to help dampen the fire.

“If you don’t have a lid, you could use a sheet pan or something, anything that would cover it to try to smother out the fire,” he said.

In the event of a stovetop fire, the first priority is to get the fire out, either through the use of an extinguisher or suffocation through the use of a fire blanket or lid, Chastain said. Next, those using the stove will want to turn off the power to the stove, if possible. Otherwise, the stove will continue generating heat which could create more fire.

Additionally, attempts to extinguish grease fires with water should never be made, as adding water to such fires will cause them to spread. Also, people are highly discouraged from taking a pan that’s on fire and attempting to move it from the stove to another location, such as a sink, as this increases the likelihood of fire-related injury.

Households that use electric ranges have a higher risk of cooking fires and associated losses than those using gas ranges, according to the NFPA. Ranges or cooktops were involved in 61% of reported home cooking fires, 87% of cooking fire deaths and 78% of cooking fire injuries from 2014 to 2018.

Clothing was the item first ignited in less than 1% of cooking fires over this time period, but clothing ignitions led to 8% of the home cooking fire deaths. More than one-fourth of the people killed by cooking fires were sleeping at the time. More than half of the non-fatal injuries occurred when people tried to control the fire themselves.

Lyle commented on the timeliness of this year’s NFPA Fire Prevention Week message, as many will look to prepare homecooked meals to share with family in the coming months.

“I think this is a great time to reiterate the hazards of cooking, especially with our major holidays coming up, with Thanksgiving and Christmas and other holidays in there as well,” he said. “I think this is a great time for us to just kind of refresh and understand and maybe learn something new about cooking safety.

Home fires caused by cooking peaked at Thanksgiving and Christmas from 2014 to 2018, according to the NFPA. In 2018, fire departments responded to an average of 470 home cooking fires per day.

Lyle said now is also a good time to clean and check cooking equipment such as turkey fryers.

“The weather’s getting a little bit cooler. Football is on. Some people are going to do some tailgate parties and such,” he said. “It’d be a great time to check out your turkey fryers, your gas grills, griddles, basically anything that you would use for cooking.”

And the arrival of the fall season should serve to remind people to take another important fire safety step.

“This is a great time to change the batteries in your smoke detectors,” Lyle said.

For additional information, contact the Arnold FES Fire Prevention Office at 931-454-5569 or 931-454-5306 or visit the National Fire Protection Association Fire Prevention Week website at