The Isle of Wight apparently has an ongoing problem with kitchen fires. According to news reports, the unique English county that exists as an island in the English Channel has recently seen a rash of kitchen fires started by cookers. Things have escalated to the point of the Fire and Rescue Service issuing special guidance to local residents in hopes of getting them to be safer in their kitchens.
Working safely in the kitchen would seem like pretty standard fare. Apparently, it’s not. According to Her Majesty’s Government, one in every six residential fires in the UK is somehow related to cooking. When you step back and think about it, the kitchen is actually a playground for fire. And there is very little difference between residential and commercial kitchens in this regard.
What’s Needed to Start a Fire
Fire is less a tangible thing and more the result of a chemical reaction. As such, fire does not just occur by itself. You need three things to start a fire: fuel, oxygen, and an ignition source. Your typical kitchen provides all three in abundance.
The number one fuel source in the kitchen is cooking oil. Whether in a residential or commercial environment, a cooking oil that gets too hot can quickly ignite in a flash fire scenario. It doesn’t take much. Beyond cooking oil, other fuel sources include paper products, certain food products, and even the uniforms worn by line cooks and sous chefs.
Ignition sources abound in the kitchen. Cookers and ovens are the main ignition sources in residential homes. Go to a commercial kitchen and you will also find grills, deep fryers, and a variety of other pieces of cooking equipment more than capable of starting a fire.
Last but not least is oxygen; it is always in ample supply. As such, any environment where ignition sources and fuel are kept in close proximity with one another is one ripe for a fire.
Fire Safety for Commercial Kitchens
Commercial kitchens in the UK are subject to strict fire safety regulations intended to minimise the risks of fire. It all begins with the fire risk assessment that businesses of all sizes and types are required to carry out. A properly conducted assessment identifies fuel and ignition sources. It also leads to strategies and policies that keep fuel and ignition sources as far apart as possible.
In terms of mitigation, a wet chemical fire extinguisher for kitchens is the minimum for commercial spaces. Some of your larger kitchens are also equipped with water sprinklers or chemical fire suppression systems. The goal is to be able to put out any fires that do start as quickly as possible.
Of course, the human factor is always a consideration. Even with the most comprehensive fire risk assessment and the best fire suppression equipment, human beings are prone to making mistakes that can have devastating consequences. As such, workers in commercial kitchens are often trained in fire safety.
Fire Safety and Home
You could make the case that residential kitchens are a more suitable playground for fire because the safety precautions practised in commercial kitchens are not practised at home. Perhaps that explains the recent warnings about cooker fires on the Isle of Wight.
At any rate, residential fire extinguishers work well for some kinds of kitchen fires. Every UK kitchen should have at least one. Beyond that, common sense is a homeowner’s most effective weapon against kitchen fires. Common sense dictates that:
- homeowners are especially careful when cooking with oil or fat
- loose fitting clothing should be secured before cooking begins
- pots and pans should never be left unattended when cooking
- ovens and cookers should never be used as a source of heat.
In the event a fire does start at home, common sense must prevail as well. The worst thing a homeowner can do is panic. For example, a panicking homeowner may not realise that attempting to put out an oil fire with a fire extinguisher is not wise. Why? Because the fire extinguisher might spread the fire. Instead, it is better to put out an oil fire by smothering it with salt or baking soda.
Be Safe in the Kitchen
Fires in commercial kitchens are not as commonplace as residential kitchen fires. That is likely due to regulations that force commercial operators to follow very strict rules. The combination of rules and fire risk assessments keeps commercial kitchens fairly safe. The same is not true for residential kitchens.
For your own sake and that of your family, please be safe in the kitchen. Pay attention to common safety rules for cooking, cleaning up, and disposing of hot oil. A little common sense goes a long way toward avoiding fires. And if a fire should ever start in your kitchen, do not try to be a hero. If you cannot contain it right away, get out of the house and call emergency services.