Fire Prevention Week: Water Dos & Don’ts

By Dr. Mark LeChevallier – October 8, 2013 – Comment

Every week of the year, my colleagues and I are 100% champions of water. But this year, for one week – Fire Prevention Week – we need to also discuss when water may not be the right choice for fire safety.

This Fire Prevention Week’s (October 6-12) key message, Prevent Kitchen Fires, means we must be well versed on the “Water Dos and Don’ts” should you need to protect yourself and loved ones from a kitchen fire.

Water can be an effective extinguisher for certain home fires, especially those fueled by wood, paper and cloth. But when considering the source of 156,600 home fires every year – the kitchen – not only is water ineffective, it can be extremely dangerous. Two out of every five home fires start in the kitchen, with cooking being leading cause of fires in the home. When you think about the potential sources of kitchen fires, it’s clear why water is typically a DON’T:

  • Appliances/Electric: Everyone knows you never want water near “live” electrical! Turn off the main electrical source, and use a CO2, halon or dry chemical extinguisher; always aim at the base of the fire, never the flames.
  • Grease Fires: Because grease repels water, it can only cause fire to spread. Instead, if the fire is contained in a pan, smother it with a lid or wet towel. Large amounts of baking soda or salt may also be effective.
  • Oven or Microwave: Again, because these are appliances, water should never be used. Instead, close the door tightly allowing the lack of oxygen to smother the fire.

Every kitchen, garage, and basement should be equipped with a readily available, suitably rated, fire extinguisher.  Of course, the golden rule of home fires is to put the safety of everyone in the house first! If you don’t feel you can extinguish a kitchen fire without risk of it spreading or harm to yourself – get everyone out of the house immediately and call 9-1-1.  Make sure everyone remains a very safe distance from the house and alert neighbors so they can get to safety, too.

Finally, this is the scenario where all of our attention to maintaining water infrastructure is a major DO! If fires spread, water via fire hydrants is typically the last recourse for defending our homes, and neighboring homes. While the statistic mentioned so far may have seemed discouraging, the positive facts are, in an approximate ten-year period, 1) the number of annual home fires has declined by about 19,000, and, 2) the number of deaths caused by home fires has declined by 150. Moreover, these numbers continue to decrease almost every year.

While this trend is probably due to many different changes, improved water infrastructure has undoubtedly helped. The increasing nationwide availability of pressurized fire hydrants allows emergency workers to extinguish blazes with greater and greater speed. In fact, the reliability of a well-maintained water infrastructure has a lot to do with adequate fire protection for communities.

We can all do our part, from being well informed and prepared at home, to keeping water lines well maintained and efficient, with the hope that every Fire Prevention Week for years to come will celebrate better and better statistics in fire prevention and survival.