Firefighters preach safety for holidays

NORCROSS - Nine-year-old Tarik Basaeed has never played with his father's turkey fryer, and after watching one go up in flames Saturday, he vowed he never will.

"The oil came out," he said. "It's dangerous."

His father, Aslam Basaeed, agreed. He said he used to let Tarik and 5-year-old Hannan play near the fryer when the family cooked their Thanksgiving meal, but that he won't let them near the device again.

"When the oil comes out, I know you have to be far away," he said. "The kids are not going to be around."

Gwinnett County firefighters hoped the message got through when they tried to re-enact a worst-case scenario with the fryer in front of the Home Depot on Jimmy Carter Boulevard on Saturday. They filled the oil higher than it should have been, heated it to 400 degrees - 375 degrees is the recommended maximum - and dropped a frozen bird into the pot, counting on a good reaction between ice and oil.

The oil bubbled over the fryer's sides, catching its base on fire. Lt. Thomas Rutledge, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Fire Department, said he had hoped the flames would ignite the turkey fryer's gas line or the wooden boards underneath, but thought people watching the demonstration understood how dangerous the fryer could be.

"Usually when it splatters up, it gets in your face and eyes and you drop the turkey in the rest of the way," he said. "It can ignite clothing. We want to make sure people use a turkey fryer with safety in mind."

Rutledge said the devices should be used outdoors on concrete, away from flammable structures like homes or decks. The oil inside should be allowed to cool before it is handled, and a turkey should be defrosted for 24 hours before it is fried.

Casey Miller, who has not fried a turkey before, said he was thinking about doing it this Thanksgiving. He said he was aware of some of the dangers, but that watching the demonstration up close made him more aware of the safety measures needed.

"To physically see it first-hand is another thing. It's pretty amazing," he said. "On a wood deck, that would've torched pretty intense."

Firefighters also planned to burn a Christmas tree at the demonstration, but discovered that the tree was not dry enough to burn.

In order to keep a real Christmas tree from becoming a fire hazard, Rutledge said trees should have needles that bend, but do not break, and have trunks that are sticky from sap. They should not be kept near a heat source and should not be up for more than two weeks. The tree stand should also be kept filled with water.

Artificial trees should be made of flame retardant materials, as should ornaments. Christmas lights should be turned off when no one is home, and no more than three strands of lights should be strung together.

Every year, Rutledge said, 2,000 people are injured in fires during the holiday season and $500 million worth of property is damaged.