Cooking is the leading cause of home structure fires according to research conducted by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). As such, it is no surprise that we’ve seen our share of real-life claims confirming this statistic. The disheartening part about their frequency is that cooking fires are also one of the most preventable losses. With regular maintenance and inspections, use of fire suppression devices, working smoke alarms and safe cooking practices, one can nearly eliminate the chance of a catastrophic cooking fire. What can you do to make sure your properties and tenants aren’t harmed by an accidental cooking fire?
REGULAR MAINTENANCE & INSPECTIONS
One of the simplest practices to ensure your property is always a safe living space is to perform regular inspections. These are easier if you or your property manager have already established a good working relationship with your tenants. Be sure to follow any local laws regarding proper notice, but don’t shy away from “invading” your tenants’ space. It is the only way to truly see if your property is being kept in good condition, and inspections also give you an opportunity to make sure there aren’t any maintenance items that your tenant hasn’t already reported to you.
ALARMS & FIRE SUPPRESSION TOOLS
Smoke alarms and CO detectors
The importance of having both of these items in constant working order in your rentals cannot be overstated. Working smoke alarms cut home fire deaths in half. (NFPA) Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors are also key because of the nature of CO’s properties: CO is often known as the silent killer because it is colorless, odorless and tasteless. Installing interconnected alarms is recommended by the NFPA because when one alarm sounds, they all sound, alerting the occupants no matter where they are located in the house.
Alarms and detectors should be tested monthly and standard batteries should be changed at least twice a year – Daylight Savings is a good time to do this. Some newer alarms come with five or 10-year batteries, but they still need to be tested regularly. The detectors themselves will also need to be changed out periodically – the typical life of a detector is 10 years. Smoke alarms and CO detectors are often required by city code, so be sure you are following any local guidelines too.
Fire extinguishers can help put out small fires before they become uncontrollable, so providing them in your rentals is a must. Just be sure to educate your tenants on how to properly use them prior to moving in! There are five classes of extinguishers, but ABC or BC are multi-purpose and can put out a variety of fires, so they may be the best choice for this application.
Fire Extinguisher Classes:
- A: ORDINARY MATERIALS – WOOD & PAPER
- B: FLAMMABLE LIQUIDS
- C: ELECTRICAL FIRES
- D: METALS
- K: COOKING OILS
This inexpensive fire suppression device can help put out a stove top fire before the cook has time to grab a lid or standard extinguisher. StoveTop FireStop products are positioned above the stove and the flames activate a small fuse on the bottom of the container, which then releases extinguishing powder down onto the stove. There is also a loud “pop” when the container opens which can alert the distracted cook so they can return to the kitchen to turn off the burners. You can learn more about StoveTop FireStop HERE.
FIRE ESCAPE PLANS & PRACTICE DRILLS
You know the floor plan of your property better than anyone. You probably looked at it carefully before your purchase – share what you know with your tenants. Identify two escape routes out of each room, if possible, and advise your tenants to keep these escape routes unblocked when they are considering where to place furniture. They may roll their eyes at your “Safety Sam” ways, but this advice may save their life!
No one expects you to be there to run fire drills for your tenants, but you can lead them to information about fire escape planning for their safety and the safety of your property. The NFPA has all kinds of resources on their website. Click HERE for their page on Basic Fire Escape Planning.
COOKING FIRE STATS
A 2011-2015 National Fire Protection Association study revealed that U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 466 home cooking fires per day, costing over a billion in direct property damage each year and causing thousands of civilian injures, many of them fatal. The study also discovered the following:
- Reported number of fires involving cooking equipment per year: 170,200
- Number of fire deaths from those fires each year: 510
- Number of civilian fire injuries from those fires each year: 5,470
- The leading contributing factor in these fires and fire casualties: unattended cooking
- Electric ranges were associated with a higher risk of fires than gas ranges
- More than half (55%) of reported non-fatal home cooking fire injuries occurred when the victims tried to fight the fire themselves.
- In 2015, Thanksgiving was the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by the day before Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, Easter, and Christmas Eve.
COOKING SAFELY INDOORS AND OUTDOORS
During colder months, most (if not all) cooking is done indoors. When warmer weather arrives, people fire up the grill more frequently. Both types of kitchens have their own set of fire risks. Thanksgiving is the leading day of the year for home fires involving cooking equipment (NFPA), while summer cookouts often involve both the grill outdoors and the stove indoors. To help your tenants cook safely year-round, share the following cooking tips for both indoor and outdoor cooking areas.
10 Tips for Cooking Safely Indoors
1) TEST YOUR SMOKE ALARMS TO BE SURE THEY ARE WORKING before guests arrive.
2) STAY IN THE HOME when using the oven and check on your dish frequently.
3) STAY IN THE KITCHEN when you are cooking on the stove top so you can keep an eye on the food.
4) USE A TIMER TO HELP YOU MULTI-TASK. Many meals include multiple dishes cooked at once – a lot to keep track of!
5) ASK A RELIABLE “SOUS CHEF” TO HELP YOU IN THE KITCHEN. Four eyes are better than two.
6) KEEP OVEN MITTS, WOODEN UTENSILS & OTHER FLAMMABLE ITEMS AWAY FROM THE STOVETOP.
7) KEEP THE FLOOR CLEAR so you don’t trip over kids, toys, pocketbooks or bags.
8) KEEP KIDS AWAY FROM FIRE HAZARDS & OTHER DANGEROUS ITEMS:
⇒The stove – 3 feet or more from that hot oven is a good rule of thumb.
⇒ Hot food & liquids – you don’t want burns from steam or the splash of vegetables, gravy or coffee.
⇒ Knives – any pointy object perfect for sword fighting should be off limits.
⇒ Electric cords – you don’t want them pulling an electric knife, coffee maker or plate warmer down from the counter.
⇒ Matches and lighters – these should be kept up high in a locked cabinet.
⇒ Candles – never leave a child alone in a room with a lit candle.
9) KEEP A LID OR COOKIE SHEET CLOSE BY IN CASE A SMALL FIRE STARTS. You can smother the flames by sliding them over the pan and turning off the burner.
10) FIRES CAN SPREAD QUICKLY, SO WHEN IN DOUBT, JUST GET OUT! When you leave, close the door behind you, get to a safe location and call 9-1-1.
8 Tips for Safe Grilling
1) FOLLOW MANUFACTURER’S INSTRUCTIONS WHEN USING YOUR GRILL.
2) INSPECT GAS/PROPANE GRILLS PERIODICALLY FOR LEAKS.
3) MAKE SURE YOUR GRILL IS STABLE AND WON’T TIP OVER.
4) KEEP BARBECUES 3 FEET OR MORE FROM ANYTHING COMBUSTIBLE, SUCH AS SIDING OR DECK RAILS.
5) KEEP YOUNG CHILDREN AND PETS AWAY FROM BARBECUES.
6) PLACE USED COALS FROM YOUR GRILL IN A METAL CAN WHEN COOL.
7) CLEAN THE GRILL AFTER EACH USE TO PREVENT GREASE FIRES.
8) NEVER LEAVE YOUR GRILL OR ANY OPEN FLAME OR TORCH UNATTENDED.
By implementing the above advice on performing routine inspections and maintenance and sharing these valuable fire safety tips with your tenants, you can avoid the all-too-common – and very costly – cooking fire, keeping your investment fire-free and helping your tenants avoid injuries too.
About the Author
BreAnn Stephenson is the resident Loss Prevention expert at National Real Estate Insurance Group. BreAnn brings over 15 years of insurance and client/customer service experience to the team.