The Finale: Let’s Put a “Lid” on Cooking Fires, Part IV

By:  Fire Chief (Ret.) Stan Tarnowski

The leading cause of kitchen fires in the USA--unattended cooking

The leading cause of kitchen fires in the USA–unattended cooking

Welcome back!  If you missed Let’s Put a “Lid” on Cooking Fires: Part I or Part II or Part III, or if you want to take a quick refresher, fear not—they’re only a “click” away.  (We’ll be right here when you come back).

Welcome Back!

Forty years ago, on May 4, 1973, the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control delivered the seminal fire service report, America Burning, to President Richard M. Nixon.  After two years of exhaustive work the commission members produced a report that provided an unvarnished evaluation of the fire problem in the USA, along with a comprehensive set of recommendations for reducing the loss of human life and property from hostile fire.

The USFA [United States Fire Administration] has recently adopted a new rallying cry of “fire is everyone’s fight,” a slogan that underscores the opening line of America Burning:  “The striking aspect of the Nation’s fire problem is the indifference with which Americans confront the subject.”  As the USFA says, we rely on the fire service to fight fires once they occur, but the prevention of fires is up to all of us.  Marty Ahrens, Senior Manager in Fire Analysis & Research Division at NFPA, America Burning 1973-2013:  A Work in Progress, NFPA Journal May/June 2013.

While America Burning changed our perceptions—those of the fire service for sure, the general public not so much—about the many aspects of fire in this country, we still have much work to do 40 years later.

In Part II of this series, we reviewed the “3 E’s of Fire Prevention”: Education, Engineering, and Enforcement.  In Part III, we added two new elements, Economic Incentive and Emergency Response (Thank you again to Rob Neale, Deputy Superintendent at the National Fire Academy, who brought this new information to our attention).

  1. Education: Teaching the public and responders what risks threaten their community and what they can do to help prevent and/or mitigate the impact;
  2. Engineering: Suggesting the use of technology, such as smoke alarms and residential sprinklers, to help prevent and/or mitigate target risks;
  3. Enforcement: Passing, strengthening and enforcing codes, laws and ordinances;
  4. Economic incentive: Working to incorporate incentives that support risk reduction such as tax incentives for installation of residential sprinklers or free smoke alarms; and
  5. Emergency response: Support the existence of an adequately staffed, equipped and trained group of emergency responders.

It has been our objective in the Let’s Put a “Lid” on Cooking Fires series to provide every reader, with a step by step guide, and the valuable tools to reduce the frequency and severity of  stove top fires. Let’s take a look below at the most current NFPA News Release, which details the fire statistics and data relative to home structure fires in the years 2007-2011, which show that these fires are still “leading the pack.”

NFPA Press Release (April 23, 2013) states that: (Lorraine Carli-Public Affairs Office)

Causes and Circumstances of Home Fires

Cooking equipment was the leading cause of home structure fires and home fire injuries (And has been for the past 20+ years).

63% of the range or stove top fires beginning with food, occurred when someone was frying (Source: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission)

63% of the range or stove top fires beginning with food, occurred when someone was frying (Source: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission)

A study published by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found that:

  • 75% of range or stove fires started with food ignitions.
  • 43% began with cooking oil,
  • 33% started with fish or meat.

I have always struggled to understand why these statistics for some reason haven’t changed much over the past 20+ years.  Why do we continue to see an overall rise in kitchen/cooking fires?   My unofficial polling of many department chiefs from across the country leads me to believe that many of us have become “conditioned” into thinking that our community will always suffer these types of fires due to carelessness of the home cooks (You can’t fix stupid!).

So we continue to try our best—with the limited resources available—to provide our “standardized” educational programs through a variety of mediums:

  • Informational pamphlets and handouts;
  • School fire prevention programs for the children to bring back word to the parents;
  • Public service announcements on the local cable TV channel;
  • Fire department banners and placards; and
  • Social media outreach via Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest, etc.

This has been our mode of operation for as long as I have been connected to the fire service, some 30 years.  Not to say that it is bad, because when you work to inform and educate the citizen base that is one of the “5-E’s” that we should be doing.  But what about the other four E’s?

HEHLT (High End Heat Limiting Technology)

With HEHLT installed on the stove top, the owner or occupant has significantly reduced the potential for a fire to start in the kitchen where: Two of every five (42%) reported home structure fires started These fires caused more than one-third (38%) of civilian home fire injuries. And, 16% of home fire deaths also resulted from kitchen fires.

With HEHLT installed on the stove top, the owner or occupant has significantly reduced the potential for a fire to start in the kitchen where:
Two of every five (42%) reported home structure fires started
These fires caused more than one-third (38%) of civilian home fire injuries.
And, 16% of home fire deaths also resulted from kitchen fires.

Example of a HE replacement element

Example of a HEHLT replacement element

Enter HEHLT an affordable technology that easily replaces existing electric coil stove top elements, the stove type used by a majority of the general population.  With this single piece of technology we now have a tool to address the remaining four of the “5-E’s”.  We now have a tool that has the potential to “slay the dragon” (provide a meaningful reduction in the frequency and severity of fire) that can—dare I say it?—be better than residential fire sprinklers.

Heresy, you say?  Consider this: when a fire sprinkler is “called upon” to do its job it means a fire has started.  After the sprinkler does its job the owner or occupant still has a clean up and restoration problem, albeit MUCH smaller than if the sprinkler had not been present.  With HEHLT installed on the stove top, the owner or occupant has significantly reduced the potential for a fire to start in the kitchen.

If we in the leadership of Fire & EMS organizations embrace this new technology—which has already been done successfully at the local, state, and federal levels in various locations across the USA—we can “bring life” to all five of the “5-Ps”:

  1. Education: Teaching the public and responders what risks threaten their community and what they can do to help prevent and/or mitigate the impact;  With the use of the HEHLT on electric coil burners, cooking oils and food cannot reach the auto-ignition temperatures needed for flame production, therefore no flame spread, (no fire).
  2. Engineering: Suggesting the use of technology, such as smoke alarms and residential sprinklers, to help prevent and/or mitigate target risks;  The HEHLT technology is engineered to be easily and safely installed without great expense and prevents the fire from occurring.
  3. Enforcement: Passing, strengthening and enforcing codes, laws and ordinances;  The adoption of a new or amended Fire Safety/Prevention Code in your government jurisdiction (like Union City, Georgia did) will drive this initiative.
  4. Economic incentive: Working to incorporate incentives that support risk reduction such as tax incentives for installation of residential sprinklers or free smoke alarms; and:   The HEHLT is approved for developers/builders to use where they can receive points up to 4 when they are applying for Tax Credit funding (QAP) at the state & local level when building residential buildings that are partially government funded such as: low income housing; Section 8 housing; assisted living facilities; and retirement communities. (These are also the high risk occupancy types and populations—for most communities—that are most adversely affected by stove top fires in the kitchen).
  5. Emergency response: Support the existence of an adequately staffed, equipped and trained group of emergency responders.  Many of our Departments have experienced serious budget cuts, which leads to not filling vacant positions or even having to furlough folks, which puts us in compromising situations. By having fewer kitchen/food on the stove fires that can quickly escalate into more serious fires, our personnel are less at risk and ready for other type fires and calls.

Summary

When I first learned of HEHLT, my first thought was:  I have to present this technology to the Union City Fire Department.  I had been the Fire Union City DemographicsChief in Union City and felt strongly that the current leadership would be very excited to see how they could adopt it in Union City to reduce fires and subsequent injuries and fatalities from these types of fires which they were very familiar with over the years.

The Union City Fire Department under the Direction of Chief Donald Leasher, and their Fire Marshal, Battalion Chief Larry Knowles, successfully used the five-step process that I’ve presented in this four-part blog series to pass a City Ordinance which mandates the use of the HEHLT.

I know that the personnel at the Union City Fire Department are very proud that they have been able to think and reach “outside the box” to implement a system that will reduce stove top fires in the kitchens of Union City.  I hope that with this blog series I’ve been able to give you and your organization the “tools” to make it happen in your community.

Until next time, be safe!

Chief Stan

About the Author

Fire Chief (Ret.) Stan Tarnowski is the President of FIRESAFE Consulting Group.  Previously, Chief Tarnowski held key leadership positions in the State of Georgia with Henry County Fire Department, the Georgia Fire Academy, and the Union City Fire Department.

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

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Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec and his wife of 30+ years now make their home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, rpa1157@gmail.com.