Monday, December 3

Get a Fire Extinguisher: A Public Service Announcement

We've all had some cooking mishaps. None of mine ever included fire. Not until last week, anyway.

I wanted yams--just like at Thanksgiving. The ones I put in the oven were perfect. Sweet and bound for greatness. I baked them and when the timer went off, I removed them from the oven and dropped the marshmallows on top one by one, creating a little layer of puffy clouds on top of my already delicious dessert-like food.

I did what my mom had said to do--I moved the oven rack up and turned on the broiler. I slid the dish into the oven and went about getting ready the remainder of my turkey leftovers.

I looked over at it and noticed that there was smoke coming from the back left burner, which is where the oven vent is located. I immediately went to the oven and opened the door.

After seeing flames, I threw the oven door shut.

I yelled, panicked, and was echoed by the smoke detector, but, having been trained how to deal with emergencies like this a few times in my life, I jumped into action without much thought. It was more reflex than choice...

Under my kitchen sink I found my fire extinguisher. I pulled the pin, checked the pressure, opened the oven wide, and sprayed. Once. Twice. The fire was out.

I took the wailing smoke detector down from the ceiling and hushed it.

Then, I couldn't breathe.

I got onto the floor and crawled to my kitchen door and onto the porch with my dog. I propped open the door. I fell into a coughing fit, but when I caught my breath, I knew I had to go back inside to open up the house.

Notice that everything in this picture is covered
in white dust. That's from my fire extinguisher.
The air was white with extinguisher chemical. The air wasn't fit to breathe. It burned my nose and throat when I breathed. I held my shirt sleeve over my mouth and nose so I at least didn't breathe in the particles directly... I was already having an asthma attack.

I went around the house opening windows and turning on ceiling fans.

When I got dizzy, I sat down, but I knew I couldn't stay there. I would just pass out because I wouldn't be able to breathe. I crawled back to the porch where my dog waited. She was frantic, but listened to me so well. Thank God, she listens so well. What a good girl.

I was a Girl Scout, my dad was a volunteer fire fighter, and I was a resident assistant for an upperclassmen dorm in college, so over the years I've learned a little about how to handle myself with a fire extinguisher. That doesn't mean I'm okay with fire. Quite the opposite actually. My family's home caught fire during my senior year of high school. It was devastating. I've never really been okay with fire. But putting out fire? I know a thing or two...

And now my Public Service Announcement...

If you do not have a fire extinguisher in your home, please go purchase one. They are not too expensive, but they could save you a lot of money (especially if you have no renter's/homeowner's insurance or a high deductible).

These are my sad yams. Half the marshmallows were
blown inside the oven when I used the extinguisher.
(See above photo.) Silver lining: the dish cleaned up
nicely and was not ruined.
There are different classes of fire extinguishers to handle different types of fires. *Note especially that there is a special kind indicated to handle grease/oil fires in kitchens (class K). Some extinguishers can be labeled to handle multiple classes of fires. Mine was labeled for ordinary combustibles (class A), flammable liquids and gases (class B), and energized electrical equipment (class C).

*Note that there is a special kind of extinguisher for electrical fires... (i.e., wire short-circuits, overloaded electrical cables). With these, water, foam, and other agents that have the potential to conduct electricity ("conductive agents") SHOULD NOT be used.

My fire was an ordinary combustible: marshmallows
But they were on fire in an electrical environment: my electric oven

Is it an electrical fire? No, but is it safe to dump water on the marshmallows en flambe?

I wasn't willing to take that chance. My extinguisher did the job.

After you use your fire extinguisher, no matter how little of the agent you used, it needs to be recharged. I used only two sprays. (I knew such a small fire didn't require me to empty the whole darn thing into my kitchen... besides, I would've just had all that much more chemical to breathe in! Yuck!) Your local fire department may be able to recharge your extinguisher for you, and if they can't, they will probably be able to tell you who can. Even if you have to pay to have it done, it'll most likely be cheaper than buying a brand new extinguisher.

It's also a good idea to have your extinguisher recharged when you inspect it regularly. Yeah, yeah, I know you're thinking that you'll do that about as often as you change your smoke detector's batteries... which is rarely or never, or only when forced because the dang thing starts beeping in the middle of the night... But maintenance is an important part of maintaining safety. If you want safety (who doesn't?), you have to work for it.


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