A clear message: a case of beer and deep-frying don’t mix

Editorial & Opinion, Wednesday, October 17, 2007, p. A8

Fire Prevention week wrapped up on Oct. 13, and this years’ slogan was “don’t drink and fry.”

I know that they can’t be talking about the majority of us who have a glass of wine while getting dinner ready, so I called Dan Fraser, Fire Prevention Officer.

He informed me that the No. 1 cause of fires is unsafe cooking practices peaking at dinner time. Fatal fires are more likely to occur after midnight, primarily from people smoking in bed and unsafe cooking.

Last year’s slogan was “Watch what you heat.” Maybe the cute slogans catch people’s attention, but I think they should be a little more direct: “if you’re drunk, don’t fry food, pass out and burn your house down, killing yourself and all of the occupants.” Granted it isn’t as catchy, but it is definitely clearer.

Dan says, “Order-in, make toast or microwave popcorn, but stay away from cooking on the stove: responsible drinking doesn’t end with the cab ride home.”

Reading through some 2006 literature, I failed Sparky’s fire prevention week checklist: we don’t have a fire escape plan, I hang my dish towels on the stove door, and the top of my stove is not always clean. I can barely keep children out of the kid-free-zone (one metre from the stove) when I am cooking, and the pot handles aren’t always turned to the back of the stove. But I am vigilant about staying within eyesight of the stove when I am cooking. Granted, in our open-concept home the line of sight is a few metres, and pots sometimes have time to boil over before I can reach them.

The last question asks: Does a grown-up test the smoke alarm in your home at least once a month? I barely have the time to vacuum once a month, so no, I don’t test my smoke alarms monthly, nor have I cleaned them annually (another recommendation).

I have never replaced a smoke detector, which we’re supposed to do every five to 10 years. At least I have never “borrowed” batteries from my smoke alarms and not returned them. Perhaps that redeems me from hanging my dish towels on the stove?

Obviously, I need a primer on fire prevention, and here is what I found:

It is law in Ontario that every home has working smoke alarms. There are two main types of alarms, one is better at detecting fast, flaming fires like grease fires (ionization) and the other is more effective at detecting slow smoldering fires like cigarettes burning in bedding (photoelectric). To be warned as quickly as possible about either type of fire, it makes sense to have one of each type per floor.

There are battery-operated and electrically connected units. The ideal type is electrically connected with a battery back up, so in case of power outages, when you are more likely to heat or cook using alternate power sources, the detectors continue to work.

Many alarms are combo smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors. It is not law to have a CO detector across Ontario, but it should be, since according to the Office of the Fire Marshall, in 2005 more than 19,660 calls related to carbon monoxide were received in Ontario (representing four per cent of the emergency calls).

CO is known as the silent killer, because it is a tasteless, colourless and odourless poisonous gas. If venting systems malfunction, including a bird’s nest blocking your chimney, or if you idle your car in an attached garage, CO can enter your home. Another source of carbon monoxide can be from lit charcoal briquettes.

Early symptoms are similar to the flu – headache, drowsiness, confusion, irritability, and nausea. At higher levels, CO causes loss of consciousness, brain damage and death.

CO detectors are designed to sound an alarm before a healthy adult would feel any symptoms. Infants, the elderly and people with respiratory and heart conditions, who can react to low levels of CO, need more-expensive detectors.

In my old home I had a CO unit that plugged into an ordinary electrical outlet at knee height, the right height according to the Windsor Fire Department website, since that is the same height as prone sleeping. In my new home the CO detector is in a combo unit in the ceiling, which is also recommended since CO is almost the same weight as air, and often rises with the warm air carrying the CO.

Don’t place detectors in areas of high humidity, near furnaces or stoves, or where they can be damaged by pets or kids. Most importantly, any alarm must be placed where it can be heard while sleeping.

This year when we change our clocks back, let’s all get into the habit of also changing the batteries in our smoke detectors, testing them with smoke, and replacing them if they are 10 years old.

But to avoid alarms altogether, don’t forget cooking on the stove, don’t smoke in bed, keep heating appliances maintained annually by a professional, and don’t fry French fries if you’re drunk.

Nadine Robinson is a freelance writer and a marketing & communications consultant. Her column appears every other Wednesday. Contact her at the.ink.writer@gmail.com

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