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.