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Emergency responders aiming for safe holiday

November 24, 2010

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of holiday safety-themed stories being published this weekend. Other installments are planned for Friday and Saturday.

“Our campaign for Thanksgiving this year is “Put on a Freeze on all Fires,” says Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Director Jim Britt.   Working with the Oktibbeha Starkville Emergency Response Volunteer Services, Britt wants to remind local citizens to be cautious.
According to Britt’s office, an estimated 2,000 Thanksgiving Day fires in residential buildings occur annually in the United States, resulting in an estimated average of five deaths, 25 injuries and $21 million in property loss each year.  
The leading cause of all Thanksgiving Day fires in residential buildings is cooking.  In addition, these fires occur most frequently in the afternoon hours from noon to 4 p.m.  And unfortunately, smoke alarms were not present in 20 percent of Thanksgiving Day fires that occurred in occupied residential buildings.
“Holidays aren’t exempt from disasters, so we urge everyone to take proper safety precautions,” said Carol Moss Read, chair of the OSERVS Board of Directors.  “And while your family is together this holiday, it’s a good time to review or develop you family emergency plan. “ 
FEMA and USFA have issued a special report examining the characteristics of Thanksgiving Day fires in residential buildings.  
The report, Thanksgiving Day Fires in Residential Buildings, was developed by USFA’s National Fire Data Center and is further evidence of FEMA’s commitment to sharing information with fire departments and first responders around the country to help them keep their communities safe during this holiday.  
The USFA also suggests these safety cooking tips:
• Make sure you have smoke alarms on every level of your home, outside each sleeping area, and in every bedroom.  Test smoke alarms monthly and replace them if they are 10 years old or older.
• Keep a close watch on your cooking.  You should never leave cooking food unattended.
• Keep oven food packaging and other combustibles away from burners and heat sources.
• Heat cooking oil slowly and watch it closely; it can ignite quickly.
• Don’t wear loose sleeves while working over hot stove burners — they can melt, ignite or catch on handles of pots and pans spilling hot oil and other liquids.
• Have a “kid-free zone” of at least three-feet around the stove and areas where hot foods or drinks are prepared or carried.
• Keep a lid nearby to smother small grease fires. 
Smother the fire by sliding the lid over the pan and turn off the stovetop.  Leave the pan covered until it is completely cool.
“Thanksgiving marks the start of a very busy time for all firefighters,” said Acting Fire Administrator Glenn Gaines.  “Holiday decorations, heating, and increased indoor cooking all present just some of the causes of residential fires. Your place of residence should be the safest place of all. Protect it with working smoke alarms and know what to do if a fire should occur.”
Deep-fried turkey has quickly grown in popularity but safety experts are concerned that backyard chefs may be sacrificing fire safety for good taste.  If you absolutely must use a turkey fryer, please use the following tips:
• Turkey fryers should always be used outdoors a safe distance from buildings and any other flammable materials.
• Never use turkey fryers in a garage or on a wooden deck.
• Make sure the fryers are used on a flat surface to reduce accidental tipping
• Never leave the fryer unattended.  Most units do not have thermostat controls.  If you do not watch the fryer carefully, the oil will continue to heat until it catches fire.
• Never let children or pets near the fryer even if it is not in use.  
The oil inside the cooking pot can remain dangerously hot hours after use.
• To avoid oil spillover, do not overfill the fryer.
• Use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts when touching pot or lid handles  If possible, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from oil splatter.
• Make sure the turkey is completely thawed and be careful with marinades. Oil and water do not mix, and water causes oil to spill over causing a fire or even an explosion hazard.
• The National Turkey Federation (NTF) recommends thawing the turkey in the refrigerator approximately 24 hours for every five pounds in weight.
• Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby.  Never use water to extinguish a grease fire.  
If the fire is manageable, use your all-purpose fire extinguisher.  If the fire increases, immediately call the fire department for help.

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