Honolulu Fire Department Chief Manuel Neves gives kitchen safety tips for fire prevention week

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Mayor Kirk Caldwell stood in the broiling sun outside Honolulu Hale on Friday alongside Honolulu Fire Department Chief Manuel Neves to proclaim Honolulu Fire Prevention Week, starting Sunday through Oct. 11.

Caldwell remembered his “most horrific days as mayor was the Marco Polo fire” of July 14, 2017, when a seven-alarm fire in the condominium high-rise caused four deaths and injured 13, including a firefighter.

“But today’s about preventing fires, so (firefighters) don’t have to put their lives at risk and people don’t die,” he said.

This year’s theme is “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen,” Caldwell said, recounting how “as a kid in Hilo I got up early to surprise my parents (with) breakfast in bed, and the bacon grease caught on fire.”

He put water on it, “and it flared up even more.”

This illustrated “one of my pet peeves,” Neves said. “Children and pets should not be in the kitchen.”

Cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S., Neves said, adding that U.S. fire departments responded to 361,500 home fires in 2019, resulting in 2,870 civilian deaths, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

In 2019, Honolulu firefighters responded to 171 kitchen fires. So far this year, they’ve been called for 100 kitchen fires, said HFD spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Roache.

This year’s theme was particularly timely, Neves said, because “with COVID, we have more people staying at home, cooking more often.”

Fire prevention tips

>> Never leave cooking unattended.

>> Keep combustibles — oven mitts, wooden utensils, packaging, towels, curtains — at least 3 feet away from the stove.

>> If you are sleepy or drinking, do not cook.

>> Smother stove top fires, including grease fires, by sliding a lid over the pan and turning off the burner. This provides better control than if you try to clamp a cover on the pot, “as your hand may get hot and you might drop the lid,” Neves said.

>> For oven fires, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.

>> If you’re not sure the fire is completely extinguished, get outside, call 911, and stay out.

Time is of the essence, Roache emphasized in an
interview. “It’s a very tiny window of opportunity, between smelling something burning, or hearing a smoke alarm, or seeing it, ” he said.

“Even 30 seconds later, you could be walking into a room that’s fully involved already,” Roache said, “and in two minutes or less, that fire can go to flashover, with everything in the room spontaneously combusting, according to NFPA and underwriters’ tests.”

To promote home fire sprinklers, which were lacking in the Marco Polo, HFD will be showing a video of Neves retrofitting his home with fire sprinklers next week on YouTube

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