Fire Department: Stay safe by keeping an eye on the stove

LAWRENCEVILLE - Over the last couple of years, firefighters have seen an increase in cooking-related fires in Gwinnett County, many of which could have been prevented.

According to the National Fire Prevention Association, cooking is the No. 1 cause of house fires. Statistics show that one in three residential fires start in the kitchen.

The Gwinnett County Fire Department hopes to reduce those numbers here through education.

"A lot of people just don't use proper cooking procedures," said department spokesman Capt. Thomas Rutledge. "It's easy to get distracted and before they know it, the fire gets in the cabinets ... or there have been incidents where folks have grabbed the pans and tried to throw them outside and children have been burned."

Rutledge said the best way to combat house fires is by educating people before the fires happen. A department-wide safety initiative will begin in 2009, where the goal will be to partner with residents, businesses and schools and address a wide range of safety issues, including cooking safety.

In the meantime, the department offers a few tips:

· Stay in the kitchen where you are frying, grilling or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen, turn off the stove.

· If you are simmering, baking, roasting or boiling food, remain in the home, check the food regularly and use a timer to remind you.

· Keep the stovetop, oven and burners clean.

· Plug microwaves or other cooking appliances directly into an outlet. Extension cords can overload the circuit.

· Have a "kid-free zone" of at least 3 feet around the stove and areas where hot food or drink is prepared or carried.

· Keep anything that can catch fire - oven mitts, food packaging, wooden utensils and towels - away from the stovetop.

In the event there is a fire:

· Just get out! Close the door behind you and call 911.

· If you do try to fight the fire, be sure others are out and you have a clear path to the exit.

· Keep a lid nearby when cooking. For small grease fires that start in a pan, smother the flames by placing the lid over the pan. Turn off the burner and leave the lid on the pan until it is cool.

· In case of an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.

Rutledge said one year's theme for a fire prevention week was "Stand by Your Pan," a play on the title of the Tammy Wynette song, "Stand by Your Man." Remembering that jingle, he said, could greatly reduce the incidents of unattended cooking.

"It sounds a little corny, I know, but people remembered it," he said.