Retire the Fire: Stay alert, stay safe in kitchen

Cooking fires are the No. 1 cause of home fires and home fire injuries. Almost half of all home fires are caused by cooking. Older adults are at a high risk of injury and death from a kitchen fire because of physical, visual, hearing, or cognitive impairments that may slow the quick action needed in a fire emergency. Attention to a wide variety of kitchen safety measures is the key to fire and burn prevention during food preparation.

Dirty kitchen ventilation systems are a common source of kitchen fires, so they should be cleaned regularly to prevent grease buildup. Dish towels hanging on oven handles or on the wall over a stovetop, where they can brush against burners and ignite, should be moved to a safer place. Good lighting over the stove and countertop area is also important, especially for those with visual limitations.

Unattended cooking is the most frequent cause of fires in the home. Seniors should remain in the kitchen while they are frying, grilling or broiling food. The stove should be turned off when the cook leaves the kitchen. Food that is simmering, baking, roasting or boiling, should be checked regularly. A timer can be set as a reminder. After cooking, the kitchen should be checked to make sure that all burners and other appliances are turned off or unplugged.

The best time for older adults to cook is when they are wide awake, and not drowsy from medication. Clothing with loose or large sleeves can easily ignite. Therefore, seniors should wear short or tight-fitting sleeves when cooking. Pot handles should be turned inward to prevent accidental spills of hot contents. A three-foot “child-free zone” should be maintained around the stove. Grandchildren and pets should be kept away from the stove while cooking to prevent burns and scalds. Remember that stoves and ovens are for cooking and baking, not storage. Combustible objects such as potholders, towels, paper or plastic bags should be kept away from heating elements.

Covering a pan fire with a lid and turning off the heat source is the safest way to put out a fire. Throwing water or using a fire extinguisher on a grease fire will only spread the fire. In addition, the force of the extinguisher can splash flaming grease out of the pan. The thinner skin of older adults burns faster and deeper than that of those who are younger. Baking soda will also help to put out a grease fire. Burning pans should be left on the stove and not moved. A person can be badly burned and the fire will spread if a burning pot or pan is moved.

For fires inside an oven or microwave, the door should be kept closed, the appliance turned off, and the fire department called.

Metal objects should never be placed in a microwave. Utensils, aluminum foil, or twist-tie wraps can arc and cause a fire. Microwaved foods and liquids can become very hot. Therefore, caution should be exercised to avoid scalding. The heated food should be allowed to “rest” before being removed from the microwave.

The majority of victims injured in fires are hurt while attempting to fight the fire. Leave the firefighting to trained professionals. In the event of a fire, leave the building quickly and call 911. All fires, regardless of size, should be reported to the Westfield Fire Department.

This is the third in a series of five “Retire the Fire!” articles this week in The Westfield News. Tina Gorman is the executive director of the Senior Center at 45 Noble St., Westfield. To reach the Senior Center, call 413-562-6435.

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