‘Stand by your pan’: Local experts offer pointers to avoid Thanksgiving fires, accidents

  • Firefighters respond to a third-alarm fire in Orange. STAFF FILE PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer
Published: 11/23/2022 2:19:12 PM
Modified: 11/23/2022 2:19:01 PM

Thanksgiving is the most common day for home fires in Massachusetts, and state and local experts are sharing pointers that could help prevent a joyful gathering from becoming an unfortunate statistic.

Luke Hartnett, a captain with the Turners Falls Fire Department, said the holiday is the busiest cooking day of the year and hot cooking appliances mixed with frantic hosts in a rush to get everything ready for guests can be a recipe for disaster. Echoing a public safety announcement from the state Department of Fire Services, Hartnett said all cooks should “stand by your pan” and never leave an oven or stovetop unattended. He also advises against napping while food cooks and suggests keeping children out of the kitchen, as youngsters have a tendency to reach for things that can be dangerous.

“Specifically in Turners Falls we certainly see our share of calls come in that day, whether it be medical or fire,” Hartnett said. “I know statistically, statewide, 80% of the fires on Thanksgiving are cooking fires.”

He also said the best way to respond to a stovetop fire is to “put a lid on it” and turn off the heat. If the fire is not quickly snuffed out, everyone should evacuate the home and someone should call 911 outside from a cellphone. The smartest way to handle an oven or broiler fire is to keep the oven doors closed and turn off the heat.

Capt. Dan Smith, of the Greenfield Fire Department, said it is important to keep the kitchen free of tripping or bumping hazards, such as toys or bags. He also said many fires are caused by unclean ovens. He mentioned the self-clean option often gets ovens too hot, and he recommends the old-fashioned method of scraping and scrubbing to remove dried-on food. Smith also recommends placing a pan at the bottom of an oven to catch debris so it can be cleaned later in a sink.

The captain also stressed that ovens should never be used for storage. He said he knows of a few cases in which someone has opted to use their oven as a makeshift drawer for a purse or a bag of chips, only to forget about the item and cause a fire when they preheat the oven.

“Every day’s busy,” Smith said. “You never know what you’re going to deal with.”

Orange Fire Chief James Young said Thanksgiving is typically a busy day for his department, with both fire and medical calls. He said any foods that produce grease carry more potential to cause a fire. The internet is rife with videos of disasters caused by people attempting to deep-fry frozen turkeys, a relatively recent phenomenon. Young said it is crucial to follow your fryer’s instructions and ensure you don’t fry a turkey anywhere near a structure.

“A lot of people like to do that in their garage — not a good idea,” he said. “Hopefully everybody has a … safe Thanksgiving and we don’t have to meet them under those circumstances.”

Hartnett mentioned a turkey should be 80 to 90% thawed before it is deep-fried.

According to state Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey, it is also important to wear short or tight-fitting sleeves when cooking to avoid igniting one’s clothes and to turn pan and pot handles inward over the stove to prevent burns and spills.

Residential cooking fires on Thanksgiving dropped by more than 20% last year, falling from 127 in 2020 to 97 in 2021. There were no fires attributed to turkey fryers last year, after a devastating Thanksgiving fire in New Bedford in 2020 caused severe injuries and displaced nearly 30 people, according to the Department of Fire Services. The National Fire Protection Association recommends the use of “oil-less” turkey fryers.

Heating is the second-leading cause of fires on Thanksgiving and the primary source of carbon monoxide in the home. It is advised to have one’s furnace checked annually and get chimneys cleaned and inspected by a professional at the beginning of each heating season. Smith, in Greenfield, also urges homeowners to have functional carbon monoxide detectors in their homes.

For more information, contact your local fire department or visit the Department of Fire Services’ Thanksgiving web page at: bit.ly/3TXAmef.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.


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