Cooking Safety Begins With Me Not Cooking

            It goes without saying that the best way to maintain safety in a kitchen is to keep me out.

            But I said it anyway, and as it happens, the theme of this year’s Fire Prevention Week is “Cooking Safety Starts With YOU”. Even a group of Congressmen couldn’t argue over whether that’s a good idea. Could they?

            “My esteemed colleague doesn’t seem to understand that if all fires were prevented, it would mean unemployment for untold numbers of construction crews and emergency room workers!”

            Yeah, I guess they could.


            The National Fire Protection Association decides themes for this important week, and they chose wisely. If only they chose wisely in naming their mascot, a huge and overly caffeinated-looking dog named Sparky.

            We don’t want sparks. Sparks are bad, except when lighting campfires, or igniting homemade cannons to flatten aliens. (It worked for James T. Kirk.)


Shouldn’t the NFPA’s mascot be named Soggy? Or is that for nightmare scenarios involving puppy training?

            In our house the kitchen is safe as long as I don’t cook; when I do, food poisoning takes the number one danger spot. Instead, my wife cooks while I do the dishes, which seems fair. No one has ever started a fire while doing dishes, although I did electrocute myself that way, once. Okay, twice.

            Long story.

            Kitchen fires are common because that’s where the fire is. Whether you use electric or gas, stuff gets hot, and hot is dangerous. When fires start people panic, doing such things as pouring water on grease fires—because it’s the kitchen, and there’s water right there, after all.

            Here are other things people do wrong, when it comes to cooking:

            They leave.

            Leaving is bad. Unattended fires rarely have anyone attending them. Most stove fires I responded to as a firefighter were unattended, and even if the flames don’t spread beyond the pan, let me assure you: The smell is horrible.

            They fall asleep.

            Dude, if you’re that tired, sleep now—have breakfast later.

You could always look for professionals to do the cooking.


            They drink.

            Cooking sherry is for cooking. If you’re consuming alcoholic beverages, you should do pretty much nothing else, except maybe watch football or take a nap. Or take a nap while watching football—set an alarm for the halftime show.

            They put flammable stuff on the stove.

            I have a big plastic bowl with a very odd design on the bottom. Kind of dents, in a circular pattern. In fact, it’s the exact same pattern you’ll find on the top of my gas stove if, say, you turned off the flames but didn’t wait for the stove to cool down before you set a big plastic bowl on it.

            On any given day, somebody’s stove will have on it an oven mitt, wooden spoon, cardboard food box, or towel. Last year, 172,100 structure fires started with cooking. Total fire damage in the USA was 15.9 billion dollars. And you know what the worst part of a kitchen fire is? When it’s over …

You’ll still be hungry.

            Two thirds of cooking fires start when food itself ignites, which kinda makes sense, and see above about how horrible it smells. Scorched beans and corn especially stink, for some reason. More than half of the injuries come when people try to fight the fires.


            Can you fight kitchen fires? Sure, after you call 911 (they’ll wisely tell you to leave), but you’re taking your chances. If you happen to be right there when something in a pan catches, just turn off the heat and drop a lid on it, suffocating the fire.

            But a lot of people don’t do that. In a panic, they’ll splash water on the fire, which will cause grease and oil to splatter and spread the fire further. Don’t do that.

            Better idea: Have a fire extinguisher and know how to use it. Read the directions and take a class, so if the fire’s small you can stand with your back to an exit, discharge the extinguisher at the base of the fire, then get the heck outside, all after you dialed 911. Do I sound too cautious? Well, the National Safety Council says 3,800 American civilians died in fires last year, with 14,700 more injured. Do I still sound too cautious?

            That’s just a quick overview of the dangers, and what you can do about them. Oh, and one more thing: Thanksgiving is the number one day for home cooking fires, so have your relatives bring food.

            Then you can stay out of the kitchen, and enjoy your nap during the football game.

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4 thoughts on “Cooking Safety Begins With Me Not Cooking”

  1. Advice doesn’t get any better than this. There’s too much information to put it on a t-shirt but I do need new wallpaper.

  2. This is the funniest Public Service Announcement I’ve ever read.

    I almost started a kitchen fire once. I was cooking beans on the 11th floor in student housing when a building fire alarm went off, so I hurried down the stairs (forgetting to turn off the stove). Turned out to be just a drill. By the time I returned, the water had cooked out and the pan was really hot and scorched. There was almost a fire caused (partly) by a safety drill.

    1. The fire alarm almost caused a fire!

      Someday I’ll tell the story about an oven full of french fries and a little kid trying to use paper towels as oven mitts, which didn’t work out for me at all. I mean, for him.

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