Several years ago, I attempted to play the video game The Sims. Being a novice at the game, I neglected to have my avatar read the cookbook to learn basic cooking skills. As a result, she consistently burned the food, set the pans on fire, and caused her mother to scold her. My avatar would then cry and sulk, while her and her mother's hunger meter peaked. I finally stopped playing because I realized there was no way out. My avatar would never learn how to cook, never be able to move away from her mother's house, and never amount to anything. It was a humorously sad state of affairs.
In real life, however, setting the pans on fire is no laughing matter. According to the National Fire Protection Assocation, unattended cooking is the leading cause of kitchen fires, most of them involving the cooktop. Cooking is one of life's basic skills. When I was in grade school, home economics was a required subject in the 6th grade. I was also part of a 4H Club group based solely on cooking. They taught us many different types of cooking skills, but they stopped short of teaching us how to react during an emergency.
The first line of defense is, of course, prevention. Preventing an oil fire means not walking away from it while waiting for it to heat up. Its easy to do-- we can become distracted by the phone, a child, or a knock at the door. Remind yourself by reciting a phrase to yourself like "when cooking, always keep looking" or some other similar reminder. Secondly, keep a pan lid close by, just in case.
Once a fire starts, its important to react swiftly and in a way that doesn't put yourself, others or your property in further danger.
If you experience a kitchen fire on the stovetop, assess the situation. You must take action to cut off the oxygen source. The best course of action is to slide the pan lid directly on top of the pan and snuff out the flames. Even if the flames are getting high, you can still drop the pan lid on the pot by first holding it as if it were a shield and placing the lid on the pan from the front side first.
If you have a damp towel, you can throw this on top of the pan to douse the flames, however, you should not use a towel if you have a gas stove. Do not try to flap the towel on the fire, because you will only end up fanning the flames.
If none of the above is feasible, or the flames have become too large, reach for the fire extinguisher- every kitchen should have an extinguisher rated for A,B, and C fires nearby. Aim the extinguisher at the base of the fire. Get everyone out of the area and keep an exit to your back so you can escape if need be.
If you cannot contain the fire yourself, or if it has become too large, leave immediately and call 9-1-1.
Don't turn on the stove vent. You can cause the fire to be sucked up into the roof of the house.
Don't throw flour on the fire, the flour will burn
Don't throw water on the fire, it will cause the oil to splatter, and thus the flames
Don't throw baking soda on a fire that is too large, it won't help.
Don't try to pick up the pan and throw it outside. Introducing outside air will only fan the flames, and can cause severe injury. Even if you do manage to get it outside, you risk setting your bushes or grass on fire, furthering the risk of a house fire.
Do teach your children not to walk away from a burner that is on. If you must leave, turn the fire off.
Do have a fire extinguisher with the proper rating nearby.
Do train yourself and your children on the proper use of the fire extinguisher.
Do conduct regular drills with your children on how to react during an emergency.
Sometimes accidents do happen, and when they do, you'll want to make sure everyone knows what to do so that your home, and more importantly, your family remains safe and unharmed.
Brought to you by Cathy Baumbusch