It’s been a few years since that day when I turned a stove burner on High, but I didn’t realize greasy chicken stock had boiled over earlier in the day, filling the catch pan under the cook top.
I turned my back for a few seconds to find a utensil. When I turned back, small flames were shooting from the burner. My quick thinking told me to smother a grease fire, so I grabbed a pot lid to do that, but it wasn’t airtight and soon the flames were double the size and spreading.
My heart was pounding, the smoke alarm was screaming and I was in full-on panic mode. Flames were reaching toward the adjacent wood cabinets. It happened so fast! I didn’t have time to run to the pantry to search for baking soda. I had a rip-roaring fire on my hands and I was in slow motion thinking about how sad it would be to be homeless for Christmas. That’s when I locked eyeballs with the fire extinguisher that had been sitting on the counter for so long it blended into the décor.
I’d never engaged a fire extinguisher. I read the instructions once but that’s about it. Not knowing what to expect, I grabbed that thing, jerked out this red plastic ring (it came out easily), pointed the nozzle and pulled the trigger. It put out the fire with one mighty blast of fine yellow powder so strong and powerful it nearly knocked me off my feet.
My experience not only woke me up, it sent me into research mode. What I learned is sobering, if not shocking: Each year, fire kills more Americans than all other natural disasters combined. Eighty percent of all fire deaths occur in residences. Where do those residential fires start? In the kitchen!
As grateful as I am, I did not do everything by the book. A fire extinguisher is no substitute for the fire department. One third of all people injured by fire are hurt while trying to control it. Fire safety professionals tell us to call 911 first. Then, use the extinguisher. The fire department will be on the way in case the fire cannot be controlled.
Next, only use an extinguisher on small fires. Be sure that you can get out fast and that the fire is small and not spreading. Grab that thing, stand back six feet and use the P.A.S.S. System: Pull the pin. Aim at the base of the flames. Squeeze the handle. Sweep from side to side.
If the fire does not go out quickly, close the door to the room, get everyone out of the house and exit the premises promptly. Meet the fire department in front and direct them to the location of the fire.
Not surprisingly, fire extinguishers are on my Christmas list for everyone. I hope you’ll do the same, starting with yourself. You don’t need big industrial-strength extinguishers. Home models like the highly rated Kidde FA110 Multi Purpose Fire Extinguisher start at less than $20—available online or at stores like Home Depot.