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Kevin, Sparky and John Chartrand
(L to R) Dr. Kevin Smith, UHN President & CEO, Sparky the Fire Dog and John Chartrand, Manager, UHN Fire & Life Safety, went to the ELLICSR Kitchen to serve up some tips on cooking safely. (Photo: UHN)

COVID-19 has TeamUHN members juggling work and home life like never before.

In times like these, when there are more people at home and an increase in possible distractions, kitchen safety is more important than ever. That's especially true when you consider that according to statistics from the Ontario Fire Marshal cooking is the leading cause of structural fire damage in the province, responsible for twice as many house fires as the next-leading cause, wiring.

"More fires start in the kitchen than anywhere else in the house," says John Chartrand, Manager, UHN Fire & Life Safety. "And there are many things you can do to reduce the risk."

Here are a few tips, endorsed by John and his team, for increasing safety in the kitchen:

Keep appliances serviced, clean, and in good repair. Dump the crumb tray and clean out the toaster crumbs periodically from the toaster or toaster oven. Wipe out the microwave. Clean the oven. Unplug any appliances that start acting funny, then have them repaired or replace them.

Unplug electric appliances when not in use. Toaster ovens, mixers, coffee makers, and so on, continue to draw electricity even when they're not turned on. So if the wiring is old or faulty, or if the thermostat overheats, a fire could break out.

Install a smoke detector near, but not in the kitchen. You don't want the small amount of smoke or steam that cooking sometimes generates to constantly trigger the alarm — but you do want it to sense an actual kitchen fire.

Use caution when lighting the pilot light or burner on a gas stove. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Don't use metal in the microwave. The sparks can turn into fire or can seriously damage your microwave.

Don't overfill pots or pans with oil or grease. The hot oil or grease can splatter and cause a fire.

Wipe up spills and don't cook on a dirty stove. Grease buildup is flammable. A clean stove is a fire-free stove.

Always roll up long sleeves and tie back long hair when cooking. You don't need your beautiful flowing silk sleeves trailing in the spaghetti sauce, and you certainly don't need to catch on fire!

Never leave cooking food unattended. Stay in the kitchen, especially if you're cooking in grease or if the oven is at a very high heat. Turn off the burner or oven if you need to leave the house or get caught up in a phone call.

Keep dish towels, pot holders, and paper towels away from the stove. You might have left a burner on by accident, and built-up heat could ignite combustibles left near or on the stove or oven.

Beyond the kitchen, John has a simple message: "Test your smoke detector for life!

"One of the best ways to protect yourself, your family and your home is to make sure your smoke detectors will alert you at the first signs of smoke," he says.

The National Fire Protection Association, the international organization which has sponsored Fire Prevention Week for nearly a century, has made this year's theme "Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen."

"Cooking continues to be a major contributor to the home fire problem," says Lorraine Carli, the Association's Vice-President of Outreach and Advocacy. "The good news is that the vast majority of these fires are highly preventable.

"This year's Fire Prevention Week campaign works to better educate the public about where potential cooking hazards exist and basic but critical ways to prevent them."

Carli notes that this year's focus on cooking safety is particularly timely.

"As the public may continue to avoid restaurants for some time and opt instead to do more cooking and entertaining at home, the potential for home cooking fires will likely increase as well," Carli says.

About Fire Prevention Week at UHN

UHN participates in Fire Prevention Week every year to help raise awareness, educate and provide an example in our community.  Some of what you can look forward to this year is:

Daily contests for Tim Hortons gifts cards

A Fire Prevention Week Grand Prize Draw

Daily "Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen" email, videos and activities

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