October is Fire Protection Month and while the Sedalia Fire Department may not be able to educate the public on fire safety as it usually does, the department is still working to keep the public informed.
This year’s Fire Protection Month theme focuses on preventing kitchen fires, an issue SFD Deputy Chief Matt Irwin says is a common one seen by the department. Many of the fires department responds to are kitchen fires, according to Irwin.
“Basically most people when they’re cooking they don’t really, for the lack of a better word, pay a lot of attention because they’re so comfortable in their own kitchen,” Irwin said. “So a lot of people place dish towels and that kind of stuff close to their burners which heat up, catch on fire. A lot of people will cook in the late evenings and fall asleep.”
Irwin advised residents to make sure they are aware of the dangers of cooking and using grease. Residents should turn panhandles in so they aren’t hanging off the stove and keep flammable items like dish towels or pot holders away from burners. Irwin advised even though some items are “semi-fire-resistant,” they will still burn if touched by an open flame.
With Thanksgiving coming up, Irwin also cautioned individuals to be careful with oil fryers and to check that their turkeys are thawed. Oil fryers should also not be used inside due to their “tendency to overflow and catch on fire and burn houses down.”
A common issue the department sees, according to Irwin, is when individuals use grease for cooking on their stovetops and a fire starts.
“The biggest mistake that we see is them either throwing a glass of water or pan of water on that grease fire or trying to take that grease to a sink; both are inherently dangerous,” Irwin explained. “Oil and water don't mix. When you throw water on it, it causes oil to rise to the top above it, overflow from the container and then it goes everywhere and it’s still on fire.
“Then when they try to take the grease pan from the stove to the sink…you drip grease here and you drip grease there and you have multiple spot fires,” he continued. “Then they put it down their sink and it’s still not going out.”
Irwin explained that turning the stove off will not cause the fire to go out — once grease ignites, it will continue to burn until it loses its fuel source. These fires can be especially dangerous due to their tendency to catch wooden cabinets above stoves on fire, which can spread to the rest of the house.
“Ultimately, it’s just being prepared for if there’s a fire,” Irwin said. “So having smoke detectors, having a fire extinguisher in your kitchen...It’s a simple matter of if you’re cooking with this pan, know what lid goes across it and have it just sitting out so that if there is a fire, you can just simply drop a lid on top of it and put it out. That’s the quickest and easiest way to put a fire out is to put a lid over it, especially with oil fires.”
Irwin advised individuals to call 911 if they have a fire so the department can take care of it. The department also recommends having home evacuation drills, a planned safe meeting spot in case of a fire and teaching children how to call 911 and their address and phone number.
Since the department is limiting its contact with the public due to the pandemic, its public outreach this Fire Prevention Month has been different. The department is still distributing fire prevention materials provided by the National Fire Safety Council through donations from local businesses. The department has not offered tours of its facilities or speaking in schools, instead opting for drivebys of facilities so kids can still see the trucks.
“We’re trying to limit our contact with children and other people simply for our protection and their protection,” Irwin commented. “So, this has really been a very weird year for us.”
“We really miss that interaction with kids and families,” he later added. “That’s probably got to be the worst part of this is missing the contact with our citizens.”
Through Fire Prevention Month, the department is also working to educate residents on the importance of having working smoke detectors. The department gives away free smoke detectors, one per household. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the department was installing them at residences but now is having able-bodied individuals install the detectors themselves. If an individual wants a smoke detector, they are advised to call the department.
The Sedalia Fire Department can be contacted at 660-826-8044.