Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service

Our Mission: Safer Stronger Communities - Safe Effective Firefighters.

Advice to the Community


Conclusion

  • More than 50% of reported fires and 66% of unreported fires are the result of cooking.
  • Chip pans and hot oil are an important factor in many serious fires.
  • The method of cooking is not an important factor.
  • The main problem is leaving cooking unattended.
  • Most people deal with, or try to deal with, cooking fires, and are successful - but this leads to a high number of injuries.
  • Fire education programmes and campaigns could usefully include burns and scalds in the kitchen as a wider issue than just fire-related injuries.
  • The issue is particularly relevant to households with young chidren.

Intervention strategies for fire safety with chip pans and cooking, as with all home-based fire risks, need to be compatible with the pressures of everyday life and be acceptable to people as something they can actually do.

Chip pans

  • Chip pans and hot oil fires need particular emphasis because they have the highest potential to cause death, serious injury and the kind of fires that a householder cannot easily control or put out.
  • The main problems stem from the very high temperatures that burning oil or fat attain, making them difficult and dangerous to approach; and the fact that burning oil or fat fires cannot be put out with water, which means they can easily spread and grow too big to be controlled or put out.

Many local and national fire safety education strategies deal with the subject of chip pan fires. The key prevention message - which is always worth repeating - is about not using too much fat or oil to prevent boiling over or spilling. In addition, many strategies emphasise using sealed and thermostatically controlled cooking appliances, or safer alternative products such as oven chips. Prevention messages also try to change behaviour by reminding people not to leave pans unattended while cooking.

The key messages on what to do if a fire breaks out are also repeated and emphasised by almost all campaigns. The main message is do not move the pan - because this will bring you into contact with the heat and flames, and is the most likely cause of injury. Most campaigns also suggest turning off the heat. Almost uniquely in domestic fires, chip pan campaigns almost always include advice on how to tackle the fire in safety by smothering the fire with a damp tea towel or fire blanket. (See the Good Practice examples in this module for more details of campaigns including these core messages.)

Unattended Cooking

  • The basic message, do not leave cooking unattended, is sound advice. However, it has to be qualified to make it realistic and something people can do in real life. Most people expect to leave food to roast in the oven, or to cook slowly, and many have kitchen timers to let them know when to go back to the kitchen; in the meantime, they have other things to do.
  • It is important therefore to single out the message about the types of cooking that cannot be left unattended - frying and grilling. To make it even clearer that these precautions can be taken in real life, and to help people be safer, is to recommend an audible timer that can be set for a few minutes. These range from built-in devices as part of the cooker to clockwork 'alarm bell' types. The point is that the sound will remind people that they need to get back to the food they are frying or grilling, even if they have been called away in that short time, for example to answer the phone or doorbell, or to attend to a child.

Fighting Fire

  • The Fire Service has always tended to avoid telling people to fight fires, or how to. Most published information centres around the message Get out - call the fire brigade out - stay out.
  • The number of kitchen fires, and the evidence that many of them are small and have been successfully put out by householders, suggests that this may not always be the best advice - and certainly that it is not seen by householders as the most realistic and practical advice.
  • When human nature and experience, however, suggest that people acting promptly can handle kitchen fires successfully, and statistics show that thousands of people do, it may be wise to think about adapting the core advice to -help people to put out kitchen fires without harming themselves.
  • As the statistics show that only 3% of householders fought fires with extinguishers or fire blankets, it may be worth considering looking at what simple, practical firefighting advice we can give. However, these messages should always be backed up with advice on when to admit defeat (how to know when you can no longer fight the fire in safety) and the 'Get out - get the fire service out' message. Young people under 16 should be taught not to fight fire.
  • One example of simple firefighting messages would be in raising community awareness of multi-purpose dry powder extinguishers. The advice on using these could usefully include other fire safety information, for example:
    • that when using an extinguisher, you must have an escape plan to get out of the room;
    • how far away from the fire you need to stand to avoid being splashed back by burning fat or oil;
    • how to assess the danger from fire and whether - in the fire service's professional assessment - you should try to fight it or call 999;
    • take actions that are not directly linked to fighting the fire: turning off the heat at the main switch or valve;
    • use fire blankets not only to put out fire, but to protect yourself when going near a fire;
    • the dangers of setting fire to clothing.

Burns and scalds

Multi-safety messages are already an essential part of the Community Fire Safety Toolbox approach. Most fire prevention material targeting cooking/kitchen safety already includes information and advice on burns and scalds where they can be caused by positioning of pan handles or by electrical flex (e.g. when doing the ironing), but do not often include advice about hot liquids (apart from oil or fat for frying) in pans, kettles, cups etc, or about the safety issues of pets underfoot or on work surfaces.

The young and the old

The effect that children can have both on being injured and causing accidents in the kitchen is not often dealt with in fire safety publications, although it does feature in other household safety materials that are available.

In the USA, the standard safety message is to 'enforce a 36 inch kid-free zone around your stove'. In the UK, this translates into a 1m safety zone around the cooker. In practice, this means keeping young children out of the kitchen much of the time (while acknowledging that this could mean them getting into other danger while a parent is cooking). They should certainly not be allowed onto work surfaces. In homes with kitchen/dining rooms, people should be advised that there needs to be some kind of guard around the cooker.

A particular risk with toddlers is that they reach up and pull kettles or chip fryers by the flex or pans by the handle and burn themselves when the contents fall on them. They also frequently burn their hands on oven doors. To help protect them, pan guards for around the cooker top are available, but teaching young children 'no' is far more important and effective.

As children become older, they can be given more responsibility. Teaching them how to prepare food and cook in safety, with an adult to supervise them and make sure they are properly dressed, etc, is the best way for them to learn to carry out these basic life skills in safety.

Older people are less likely to start fires in the kitchen, because they usually have much greater experience (although there may still be some who have never cooked for themselves) and fewer distractions. They are, however, more likely to have difficulties caused by physical disability or infirmity. These can lead to more injuries resulting from dropping pans of hot liquid, falling onto cookers, or clothes catching fire. Although there are fewer accidents, the injuries that result can be more serious, and there is a higher death rate in this age group - and even more so for women than men.

Much of the fire safety advice that will help to protect older people is closely linked to, or even identical to, advice that helps them retain their independence and general safety.

The young and the old

The effect that children can have both on being injured and causing accidents in the kitchen is not often dealt with in fire safety publications, although it does feature in other household safety materials that are available.

In the USA, the standard safety message is to 'enforce a 36 inch kid-free zone around your stove'. In the UK, this translates into a 1m safety zone around the cooker. In practice, this means keeping young children out of the kitchen much of the time (while acknowledging that this could mean them getting into other danger while a parent is cooking). They should certainly not be allowed onto work surfaces. In homes with kitchen/dining rooms, people should be advised that there needs to be some kind of guard around the cooker.

A particular risk with toddlers is that they reach up and pull kettles or chip fryers by the flex or pans by the handle and burn themselves when the contents fall on them. They also frequently burn their hands on oven doors. To help protect them, pan guards for around the cooker top are available, but teaching young children 'no' is far more important and effective.

As children become older, they can be given more responsibility. Teaching them how to prepare food and cook in safety, with an adult to supervise them and make sure they are properly dressed, etc, is the best way for them to learn to carry out these basic life skills in safety.

Older people are less likely to start fires in the kitchen, because they usually have much greater experience (although there may still be some who have never cooked for themselves) and fewer distractions. They are, however, more likely to have difficulties caused by physical disability or infirmity. These can lead to more injuries resulting from dropping pans of hot liquid, falling onto cookers, or clothes catching fire. Although there are fewer accidents, the injuries that result can be more serious, and there is a higher death rate in this age group - and even more so for women than men.

Much of the fire safety advice that will help to protect older people is closely linked to, or even identical to, advice that helps them retain their independence and general safety.

 
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