Thanksgiving safety tips: Avoiding fires, injuries and turkey fryer explosions

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Edwards Air Force Base demonstrates the potential dangers of turkey frying. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Marissa Tucker)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Turkey fryers – and the fires and injuries they can cause – have gained notoriety in recent years. Despite causing an estimated 900 fires per year, according to New Hanover County Fire Rescue, turkey fryers have grown increasingly popular.

The National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) strongly discourages the use of turkey fryers:

NFPA continues to believe that turkey fryers that use cooking oil, as currently designed, are not suitable for safe use by even a well-informed and careful consumer. These turkey fryers use a substantial quantity of cooking oil at high temperatures and units currently available for home use pose a significant danger that hot oil will be released at some point during the cooking process. In addition, the burners that heat the oil can ignite spilled oil. The use of turkey fryers by consumers can lead to devastating burns, other injuries, and the destruction of property.

The NFPA suggests those looking for fried turkey purchase it from “professional establishments,” or consider using an infrared powered “oil-less” turkey fryer.

Battalion Chief David Hines, of Wilmington’s Fire Department, said the city has no official policy against frying turkeys.

“Are main concern is that it’s done safely,” Hines said. “It has to be outside, not on a wooden deck or anything like that. Also, the turkey must be thawed.”

The Wilmington Fire Department also reminded home cooks to ensure that their turkeys are patted dry and that they have not been stuffed or marinated.

New Hanover County Fire Rescue has posted several safety advisories for turkey frying on social media. In contrast to the NFPA, the county’s Fire Rescue has demonstrated safe procedures for home cooks using propane gas fryers.

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NHC Fire Rescue demonstrating safe turkey frying technique. The propane tank is several feet from the burner, which is placed on dry level ground, far from any building. Also, note the heavy-duty gloves and metal rack for lowering the turkey into the hot oil.

Battalion Chief Jennifer Smith said, “We’re not for or against it. We are aware of the dangers. But people are going to do this, and we think it’s important that we educate them, and help them do it safely.”

Fire Rescue has also posted several times on their twitter feed to say that, in the event of a fryer fire, people should never use flour or water to fight the fire. Oil fires should be fought with appropriate fire-extinguishers, which anyone deep frying a turkey should have on hand. Dry powder, co2, AFFF foam, and BCF/Halon extinguishers can be used.

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County Fire Rescue offered the following additional safety tips for turkey fryers:

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County and Wilmington fire departments have emphasized that even those cooking a more traditional meal – without a fryer – need to exercise caution.

On Thanksgiving there are nearly four times the average number of cooking fires, according to the NFPA. In 2014, there were approximately 1,700 reported fires caused by cooking. Unattended cooking – pots on the stove top or ovens left on – has historically been the leading cause of these fires, followed be electrical issues and misused equipment. In general, cooking equipment is responsible for just less than half of all reported house fires.

The NFPA offers these holiday safety tips, which have been shared by the New Hanover County Fire Rescue and the City of Wilmington’s Fire Department:

  • Stay in the kitchen when you are cooking on the stove-top so you can keep an eye on the food.
  • Stay in the home when cooking your turkey and check on it frequently.
  • Keep children away from the stove. The stove will be hot and kids should stay 3 feet away.
  • Make sure kids stay away from hot food and liquids. The steam or splash from vegetables, gravy or coffee could cause serious burns.
  • Keep the floor clear so you don’t trip over kids, toys, pocketbooks or bags.
  • Keep knives out of the reach of children.
  • Be sure electric cords from an electric knife, coffee maker, plate warmer or mixer are not dangling off the counter within easy reach of a child.
  • Keep matches and utility lighters out of the reach of children — up high in a locked cabinet.
  • Never leave children alone in room with a lit candle.
  • Make sure your smoke alarms are working. Test them by pushing the test button.

Below: State Farm Insurance and William Shatner of the dangers of turkey frying.

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