Sayre Fire Chief: Stay vigilant while cooking during Thanksgiving

If you plan on cooking any of these foods for Thanksgiving, here are some tips to stay safe.

As people across the country are getting ready to host their first Thanksgiving dinner after the COVID pandemic kept so many people home, local fire departments are also gearing up for one of the busiest days of the year.

From 2017-2019 there was an average of 2,300 residential building fires on Thanksgiving Day that cost not only millions of dollars in damage but lives as well.

“Make sure that you give yourself enough time to prepare it so you can cook everything at the appropriate temperatures. Don’t leave cooking food unattended, keep an eye on it,” said Chief Robert Repasky of the Sayre Fire Department.

With so many people in the kitchen on Thanksgiving it is no surprise that more cooking fires are reported on the annual holiday than any other day of the year. Along with more people cooking on Thanksgiving, Repasky said that many of them are also new cooks who rarely if ever cook anything else the rest of the year.

“You get more people cooking for the first time so sometimes that runs into issues … You need to pay attention. Don’t leave stuff on the stove unattended. There is a lot of stuff that goes along with the turkey, be patient and cook it right. Follow the directions, especially when it comes to the temperatures,” Repasky said.

According to the statistics compiled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, cooking fires represent roughly 51 percent of all residential building fires — on Thanksgiving that number jumps to 74 percent.

Locally, however, Repasky said that things in recent years have not gotten too out of control.

“People have actually been pretty good the last couple years … I do hope (the good luck) keeps going, we want to enjoy our Thanksgiving dinner as well,” Repasky said of his fellow firefighters.

As a result of the surplus of fires on Thanksgiving, FEMA estimated that between 2017-2019 there was $26 million in property loss, 25 injuries and five deaths per year. The most dangerous time of the day runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., which corresponds to when many people are cooking.

While stovetop cooking was attributed with starting the preponderance of cooking fires on Thanksgiving in years past, turkey fryers are also of great concern. Recommendations from firefighting organizations across the country recommend that turkey fryers only be used outside and far away from any building or structure.

It is also key when using a turkey fryer to never insert a frozen bird and to only fry a completely thawed turkey. Along with the grease presenting a tangible threat of fire, even outside, caution should also be taken to prevent serious bodily injury due caused by the hot grease touching exposed skin. Therefore an abundance of caution is recommended and to slowly lower the bird into the fryer and to never drop it in.

“You can’t say it enough, if deep frying don’t drop (a frozen turkey) into a pot of boiling oil, thaw it out first. And make sure you are outside and away from anything,” Repasky said.

Other recommendations for staying safe during Thanksgiving include making sure that you have working smoke detectors and to make the kitchen a pet and child free zone.

It is also recommended to use timers to ensure food isn’t left cooking for too long, and to follow recipes appropriately and not to overstuff pots or the oven.

“Stay vigilant,” Repasky said.

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