Home cooking fires: they are avoidable

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Emily F. Alley
  • 190th Public Affairs
What would you do if you walked into your kitchen to saw a grease fire? It's a question Senior Master Sgt. Pat Moore, from the 190th ARW fire station and Civil Engineering Squadron, asks when he discusses fire awareness. The answer, if wrong, can be expensive and painful.

Technical Sgt. Renee Woods, a civil engineer, wasn't used to frying and cooking with oil. In August 2009, she had agreed to heat oil for her fiancé, who was bringing home catfish to fry. Woods was unaware that grease should be heated without a lid, which she removed when her fiancé arrived. When she lifted the lid, fire burst in the pot. She and her fiancé panicked, but knew grease fires should be smothered; they just couldn't remember which to use, baking soda or flour?

While baking soda will smother a fire, flour is very flammable, especially when it's airborne.

Frantically, Woods threw flour at the flames. A fire ball erupted. Her dogs danced around her feet, and Woods' first thought was to get the pan out of her house. She grabbed the handle of the burning pan and yelled to her fiancé to open the door. She hurried out the doorway while the handle seared a second degree burn into the palm of her right hand.
Her intention was to drop the pan into her backyard fire pit. One of the dogs rushed around her ankles as Woods was about the throw the grease. To avoid hitting the dog, she threw the flaming pan into the grass. The hot oil washed over her right hand, causing third degree burns and set the grass on fire.

Woods' fiancé drove her to the emergency room, where they sat for two hours until they were told to drive to KU medical center. The whole time, Woods took almost nothing for the pain because she was 17 weeks pregnant. She gave birth to a healthy baby boy in January.

Although her hand is almost healed now, a year later, Woods could have saved the pain and about $70,000 in medical bills (all but $3,500 was paid by insurance) by using baking soda to smother the fire, or simply replacing the lid on the pan. Those are a few of the suggestions Moore offered.

He is concerned, as a fire fighter, about raising awareness on how to handle that situation. Unfortunately, Tech. Sgt. Crews, from Wing Headquarters, repeated Woods' accident in July.

"They made a bad choice, in the same situation and got the same result," Moore described.

Crews was cooking with grease when it caught fire - the flames were a foot high - and she rushed to carry it out of the house. As she opened her door, a gust of wind blew the burning oil onto her right hand. It's especially unfortunate since Crews recalls that she had a fire extinguisher in her kitchen the whole time. She simply didn't remember it when the fire broke out.

"The thing is, it's so avoidable," laments Moore.

His advice for stove-top fires is to never leave anything unattended. If something does catch fire, don't pick it up. Don't pour water on a grease fire, it will only spread the fire and won't put it out. By paying attention, you'll catch the fire earlier, when it's still small. Have an oven mitt ready and a lid for the pan- one the same size or larger.

"The easiest and best option," Moore suggests, "is to slide the lid over the pan. Then reach over, carefully, and turn off the burner."

Crews agrees. She choked up recalling the time she spent in the hospital after the accident.

"There was so much pain, meds," and with her eyes tearing up she added how grateful she was, "I'm dead serious. Obviously I had my family, but if it wasn't for the 190th, I don't know what I'd do."

She received calls, emails, and 150 hours of leave donated within a day and a half.