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David A. Hoefer: Key points in preventing fires

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How often has the doorbell rung or a child interrupted you while you were cooking, causing you to forget about the chicken you left sizzling on the stove — until smoke filled the house?

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If this scenario or a similar one sounds familiar to you, you may want to think about it a little more because it’s likely that you, a friend or family member has run the risk of having a dangerous fire. As chief of the Bemidji Fire Department, I often talk to people about the ways they can stay safe in their homes. Too often, we have that talk after they’ve suffered a damaging fire.

It’s my hope that people reading this won’t have to learn the hard way. If I could give just one fire warning, I’d say, "Keep an eye on what you fry!"

Why? Because cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the Bemidji area as well as the United States according to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The latest statistics from NFPA say U.S. Fire Departments responded to an estimated annual average of 156,600 cooking-related fires between 2007 and 2011.

We’re joining forces with NFPA and thousands of other fire departments across North America to commemorate Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 6-12, "Prevent Kitchen Fires." The theme reminds us that leaving cooking unattended and other unsafe kitchen practices are a recipe for disaster.

Often when we’re called to a cooking-related fire, the residents tell us they only left the kitchen for a few minutes. Sadly, that’s all it takes for a dangerous fire to start. The bottom line is that there’s really no safe period of time for the cook to step away from a hot stove. A few key points to remember:

EStay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling, or broiling food. If you must leave the room even for a short period of time, turn off the stove.

EWhen you are simmering, baking, or roasting food, check it regularly, stay in the home, and use a timer to remind you.

EKeep cooking areas clean and clear of combustibles (e.g. potholders, towels, rags, drapes and food packaging).

EKeep children away from cooking areas by enforcing a "kid-free zone" of three feet around the stove.

EIf you have a fire in your microwave, turn it off immediately and keep the door closed. Never open the door until the fire is completely out. If in doubt, get out of the home and call the fire department

EAlways keep an oven mitt and a lid nearby. If a small grease fire starts in a pan, smother the flames by carefully sliding the lid over the pan (make sure you are wearing the oven mitt). Turn off the burner. Do not move the pan. To keep the fire from restarting, do not remove the lid until it is completely cool. Never pour water on a grease fire. If the fire does not go out, get out of the home and call the fire department.

EIf an oven fire starts, turn off the heat and keep the door closed. If the fire does not go out, get out of the home and call the fire department.

A cooking fire can quickly turn deadly. I have seen too many homes destroyed and people killed or injured by fires that could have been easily avoided. Please heed these simple safety rules. We firefighters would like to be in your kitchen, but only when you invite us for dinner.

Thank you for helping us make Bemidji a safer community,

David A. Hoefer is Bemidji’s Fire Chief.

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