Thanksgiving safety: Fire departments stress importance of cooking guidelines

HARLINGEN — Thanksgiving meal preparations typically include hectic kitchen activities or perhaps an outdoor deep fryer, but according to the National Fire Prevention Association, these preparations could be a safety hazard if not supervised correctly.

As families get ready for today’s Thanksgiving meals, officials from several Cameron County fire departments discuss the possible situations where a fire could occur from improper cooking practices.

“Thanksgiving is the peak season for more kitchen fires regarding unattended cooking. Leaving something on the stove and forgetting about it because you are busy talking to other families can cause something to happen,” said Lt. Richard Alvarez from the Harlingen Fire Prevention unit of the fire department.

“Always be vigilant of what you are cooking and keep track. Use a timer and be aware of your surroundings. Do not have towels in close proximity to a stove,” he said.

Alvarez also said it is important to keep small children out of the kitchen and to keep clutter out that might be a tripping hazard.

Deep fried turkey has also become a common practice, but according to officials, it can be a dangerous one.

“When cooking turkeys in a deep fryer be sure to keep the fryer away from buildings, vehicles and other flammable objects. Have a plan in the event something goes wrong,” said Rio Hondo Police and Fire Chief William Bilokury.

“Have a lid; know where the cut off valve for the gas is. Do not use water to put out a fryer fire. Have a dry chemical fire extinguisher available. Be prepared to leave the area immediately,” he said.

Asst. Fire Chief of La Feria Plutarco Garcia said checking smoke alarms and having a fire escape plan are two of the biggest things to consider for safety.

“Make sure your smoke alarms are working. Check batteries and test them at least twice a year,” Garcia said.

In case of a fire caused by cooking or any other activity during the holidays, Garcia said to make sure to have an emergency plan ready.

“Having a fire escape plan is one of the biggest things. Knowing two ways out of your home and once you get out make sure to stay out. Do not go back in for anything or anybody. We will go ahead and take care for them,” he said.

“Have a meeting point outside the house and never go back into the fire. Teach your children to call 911, and let them know what kinds of emergencies deserve a call and practice fire drills,” Garcia said.

Did you know?

– U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 162,400 home fires per year involving cooking equipment.

– Ranges or cook-tops account for almost three of every five reported home fires involving cooking equipment. Ovens account for 13 percent.

– Unattended cooking is a contributing factor in 34 percent of home fires related to cooking equipment.

Safety Tips

– Stay in the kitchen when you are cooking on the stovetop so you can keep an eye on the food.

– Stay in the home when cooking your turkey and check on it frequently.

– Make sure children stay away from hot food and liquids. The steam or splash from vegetables, gravy or coffee can cause serious burns.

– Make sure electric cords from electric knives, coffee makers and plate warmers are not dangling off the counter within easy reach of a child.

Sources: National Fire Prevention Association and NFIRS data.