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It may be especially important for you to consider it now.  Fire safety data from authorities like the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has long indicated that cooking fires can be a higher risk on days and in months when people are more likely to be indoors cooking.

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This is not a cooking fire story.  It is however, a story about the extraordinary costs and heavy burden that can hit property owners following a catastrophic fire event in a large multi-family residential apartment building. This is a must read for those interested in understanding and managing risk.

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This is a story that has its roots in New England, USA but it really has relevance in virtually every corner of the world, including Australia. It’s about keeping people and property safe, and how one firefighter’s passion to do just that has worked. The villain of the story is cooking fires. They are a massive problem.

In the US alone, they are the number-one cause of household fire and cause billions in direct and indirect damage every year.They are the leading cause of fire-related injuries and the second leading cause of fire-related deaths.

Enter the heroine, Lt. Annie Pickett. Lt Pickett runs the Community Risk Reduction (CRR) and Outreach Division for the Worcester Fire Department in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Story appears in the Asia Pacific Fire Magazine, April 2020, page 75.

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The holidays should be a time for family and friends to gather around the meal table not out on the street watching firefighters heroically try to save their home from being destroyed by fire. Sadly, this will be the case for too many people this season.

Next to Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and Christmas Eve are the second and third most likely days of the year that a residential cooking fire will take place.

Where do residential cooking fires occur most often?

Multi-family apartment buildings.

74% of all fires in multi-family residences are the result of cooking — that’s nearly double the rate of other buildings.

If you are the owner or manager of a multi-family property this is a fact you cannot ignore. Not only do cooking fires lead to preventable injuries and death, but they are also extremely costly from a financial perspective as well.

On average, cooking fires cause over $1 billion in direct property damage every year. Add in lost rent costs, restoration expenses and reputation loss and you have tremendous incentive to educate and remind your tenants of the importance of cooking fire safety during the festive season. (More information can be found in this recent report from the National Fire Protection Association.)

The Causes of Cooking Fires

A report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), concludes that unattended cooking is the number one reason (40%) why cooking fires occur. During the holidays, the possibility for this escalating is more likely than your Dad having no idea what gifts ‘he’ and your Mom may have bought everyone.

Think about your own family get-togethers and how easily the cook’s attention can be distracted. There are guests to be greeted, drinks to be served, appetizer trays to be shuttled back and forth to other rooms, spontaneous kitchen conversations to engage in, and gift opening to participate in.

Meanwhile, the cook must remember to regularly check on the stovetop because there are frying pans that can get too hot; pots that can boil over; roasting pans that can leak; and flammable items such as recipe books, oven mitts, and dishcloths that can be accidentally left too close to the stove. The list of dangers goes on and on…

Then there’s oil, fat and grease, the undisputed Grinches of the holiday kitchen.

Oil, fat, and grease are highly flammable and can splatter and spill during cooking. It’s not surprising that when it comes to residential cooking fires, these represent the kitchen materials that are ignited most often (47%), says FEMA.

Luckily, preventing these types of fires doesn’t require a Christmas miracle. All that is needed is some good common sense.

Create a Safety Reminder for Your Tenants

A simple way to encourage your tenants to practice safe cooking over the holidays is to incorporate the reminders below from The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) into a poster you can display by your building’s elevators, community board or mail room. You can also create separate flyers to drop in tenant mailboxes or slip under each apartment door.

• Be on alert! If you are sleepy or have consumed alcohol, don’t use the stove or stovetop.
• Stay in the kitchen while you are frying, grilling, boiling, or broiling food.
• If you are simmering, baking, or roasting food, check it regularly, remain in the kitchen while food is cooking, and use a timer to remind you that you are cooking.
• Keep anything that can catch fire — oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels or curtains — away from your stovetop.

Modify Your Building’s Stoves

Many cooking fires that happen in multi-family residences involve an electric kitchen stove that has coil elements. The primary reason for this is that electric coils just get too hot.

Traditional electric coils can reach temperatures of 1,650° F or more; aluminum (the material many pots and pans are made from) melts at 1,218° F; many cooking oils auto-ignite at temperatures above 716° F; water only needs 212° F to boil. So, the question is this: Why are the stoves in most multi-family residences equipped with a heat source that is as much as 9 times more than what is needed?

With this in mind, an easy, proactive step you can take to lower the risk of cooking fires occurring in your building or property is to replace the electric coils of every stove in every apartment with technology that effectively controls the temperature.

Products such as the SmartBurner and the SmartElement do exactly that. With temperature limiting control (TLC) technology, they’ve been designed to control how hot burners can get, regulating the temperature so that the cast iron plate never reaches the point where cooking oils can auto-ignite. These two products offer cooking fire prevention without a corresponding loss in cooking performance. In fact, SmartBurner and Smart Element are often credited with delivering a cooking performance that is better than the electric coils they replace.

The bottom line: by switching out old electric coils to modern, temperature-controlling cast iron burners, you can help stop cooking fires before they start. Couple this with an initiative to remind your tenants of some basic cooking safety measures they can follow, and your building – as well as staff, residents, and guests — will be better protected. Consider it the gift of safety and peace-of-mind. One way to help ensure that the holiday season is filled with silent nights free from the sound of fire engine sirens wailing in the air.

By LAUREN J. MAPP

A major component of the American Dream is to buy a house that will become a forever home to raise a family and grow old in.

An AARP survey in 2018 found that 76 percent of adults over 50 would prefer to stay in their current home for as long as possible. The survey also found that only 46 percent of people thought they’d be able to do so. 

Melissa Dennison of Jewish Family Service said safety concerns are some of the main hindrances to older adults aging in place. Dennison is the coordinator for the organization’s Fix-It Service.

Falls in the home, for example, are a big problem. 

“If a person falls, they’ll be in the hospital for a while and they’ll be frightened to go back to their regular activities,” Dennison said. “Sometimes if they’re away from their social outlets — the centers where they go to play cards or games — they’ll lose their friends.”

According to the National Council for Aging Care, 80 percent of falls in the home happen in the bathroom. NCAC also reports that in general 30 to 50 percent of falls are caused by conditions like uneven surfaces, slippery floors and bad lighting. 

The Service’s Fix-It program can help seniors with a number of home safety modifications. The free program is available to adults who are 60 and older who live in central, eastern or southern San Diego County and have an identified caregiver. The number is (858) 637-3210.

Some of the installations JFS provides include grab bars in the bathroom, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, handheld shower heads and walkway lighting. For rental properties or spaces with fiberglass walls, non-invasive safety devices will be used instead of ones that need to be drilled into the walls, Dennison said. 

North County residents can get help from Interfaith Community Services by calling (760) 489-6380. 

A combination of traditional household safety fixtures and new smart technology might be key to helping people to remain in their homes as they get older. Here are some easy to use and install devices to incorporate into your safety plan at home. 

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As Americans travel short and long distances to their Thanksgiving dinner, thoughts will inevitably drift to: What will we talk about? What’s politically correct? How do I avoid mentioning politics? Or the wrong pronoun? Here’s a safe topic for discussion. In fact, it’s not just a safe topic, it may turn you into a Thanksgiving dinner hero. Ready?  ‘Cooking fire safety’. Wait!!!! It’s not nearly as dry as you might think. It really could make you a hero. The hero that helps prevent a fire before it even starts! So, have the cooking fire safety conversation with your friends, your family, your neighbors, your tenants, or yourself. Just have it.

With so many meals being prepared and served, kitchens across the nation will be buzzing at full tilt. Millions of Americans packed close together in one room (obviously not the same room), with lots of distractions… what could go wrong?  Sadly, too much.  Can it surprise any of us that American Thanksgiving is the peak day for home structure cooking fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. In 2016, it was reported that U.S. Fire Departments responded to more than 1,500 home cooking fires on Thanksgiving Day alone. Now, if you think you or your tenants are safe because you all eat the day before Thanksgiving – that’s a high-risk day too. And don’t underestimate the scale of the risk. Cooking fires are the leading cause of all home or apartment fires and cause more than $1 billion in direct property damage each year. That could buy a lot of turkeys.

The Cooking Dangers

As the tenants in your property prepare for their Thanksgiving, now is a good time to prepare some messaging for them about cooking fire safety. Remind them that while kitchens can be hazardous at the best of times, they can be especially risky when filled with people and many distractions. With that in mind, let’s ask the key question: How do most cooking fires start?

Unattended Cooking

If your tenants have guests over for the holiday, distractions in the kitchen are very possible – if not likely.  Friends who share stories, gossip, and reminisce, while siblings call out scores, and children scream louder than dogs can bark: The reasons for distracted cooking are multiplied on Thanksgiving. And whatever the reason, unattended cooking is by far the leading contributing factor to cooking related fires, injuries and deaths.

Cooking Equipment

With so much food being cooked at once, it’s easy for your tenants and their guests to overlook a pan getting too hot, oil boiling too high, or other combustible items that are simply too close to the stove top. Cooking equipment was involved in almost half of all reported home fires and home fire injuries.Electric stove ranges accounted for the largest share of incidents, but (especially on Thanksgiving) frying poses the greatest risk of fire.

Too Close to the Heat

Even kitchens that are normally neat and tidy become a whirlwind of activity during Thanksgiving preparations. With pots and pans on stoves, and so many other items on countertops throughout the kitchen, it can be easy to overlook a potential danger. Two-thirds of home cooking fires started when food or other cooking materials caught on fire. Appliance cords get too close to burners, wooden utensils are left near flames, and dishcloths are left too close to the cooking area. Any and all of these mistakes can lead to Thanksgiving, quite literally, going up in smoke.

Too Many Appliances

Thanksgiving preparation in a small space, such as an apartment, means that several appliances may be plugged into limited electrical sockets. Electric frying pans, slow cookers, griddles, and coffee makers might all be plugged in simultaneously. Pair that with other family members drying their hair or charging their phones, and it’s easy to see how outlets might get overloaded. This could put everyone in the building at risk of an electrical fire.

Safety Measures

As your tenants prepare for their Thanksgiving dinner with their friends and families, safety isn’t always at the forefront of their minds. As a property manager, you might be thinking how you can help prevent cooking fires? While you can’t control your tenants’ actions, you can remind your tenants to be cautious and safe while preparing for the festivities. Sharing the following tips and being prepared yourself can help decrease the risk of fire and ensure everyone has a joyous and safe holiday.

  • Test Smoke Alarms – Ensure fire alarms are securely in place and the batteries are working when conducting property inspections. Encourage your tenants to do a quick test themselves before they begin kitchen preparations for the big day.
  • Clean Before Cooking – It’s important that tenants make sure their ovens and stove tops are free of grease before they begin cooking their mashed potatoes and green bean casseroles. It’s also important to check that their kitchen vents are functioning properly.
  • Don’t Leave Cooking Unattended – Remind your tenants to stay in the kitchen when using the stove top. If they have to step out of the kitchen – even for a brief moment – they should turn the heat down or off, or have someone take their place until they return. They should also stay inside the home when cooking the turkey and check on it often.
  • Keep a Watchful Eye Out – It’s important that your tenants pay attention, not only to the food, but to the area around the stove. Items that can catch fire should never be carelessly tossed aside or left too close to the cooking area. Keep oven mitts, electrical cords, dishcloths, wooden utensils, and even shirt sleeves at a safe distance.
  • Turn Handles –Turn pot and pan handles inward and away from the edge of the stove. This will prevent them from being jostled and knocked off.
  • Prevent Electrical Fires – Ask your tenants to limit the number of appliances they use simultaneously. If plugging in multiple items at once, tenants should use approved power strips to reduce the risk of electrical-related problems or an electrical fire.
  • Always be Prepared – One simple thing you can do, as a property manager, is remind tenants of the emergency/fire exits, and ensure that they are kept clean.
  • Install fire prevention technology – Above all else, the best way to ensure safety during this time of the year is to install the right technology that prevents fires before they happen in the first place. Products such as the SmartBurner and the SmartElement are beneficial as they have been designed to prevent burners from reaching temperatures in which cooking oils can ignite. Other preventative products, such as the SmartMicro or SmartRange, prevent fires by turning off the microwave at the first sign of smoke or the glass top stove at the first sign of cooking fire risk. No fires, no injuries, no property loss.

Cooking fires are real and pose a serious threat, especially on Thanksgiving. This holiday season, it’s important that you, as a property manager, keep your tenants safe by informing them of the dangers and providing them with adequate tips for a safe holiday. Staying current on trends and technology that can be used to help prevent the risk of cooking fires, is another way you can help keep your tenants, and your property safe.

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