Chicken – and Grease – and Fire – OH MY!

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September 18, 2013

Here at Ranch Meemic, buckaroos, troubles are a’brewin.’ Kitchen fires here, busted pipes there and fender benders all around, it’s like havin’ a burr under your saddle. Lucky for our members, Meemic’s got Risk Wrangler Rita! A powerful woman, strong as steel and blessed with the wisdom of Solomon, she’s ready to take on your toughest insurance claims questions and offer a little safety advice along the way. Gather around the campfire every month for a new Rita rescue. In this story, Rita rustles up some kitchen safety advice for a greenhorn who ended up on the dark side of a chicken.

Is your college student really protected from a kitchen disaster while away at school? Learn from one of our member stories and help your college student avoid a kitchen disaster!

Dear Risk Wrangler Rita,

I love my daughter Debbie, but I think she’s trying to give me a heart attack. We’re at the family reunion when Debbie starts telling this “funny” story that happened at her off-campus apartment complex during summer session. She was hosting her first dinner party (and, in all honesty, I was more interested in helping her choose pretty bedding than I was in outfitting her kitchen), so I’m already thinking the worst.

Debbie said things were going great. Since she missed my home cooking, she decided she’d make a family favorite — roast chicken and vegetables. She said she didn’t have many utensils, so she had to improvise … a butter knife for a carrot peeler, twist ties to truss the chicken and even a new (she swears) toothbrush to spread melted butter on the bird.

Then, things took a turn for the worse. With dinner just minutes away, she went to the kitchen and opened the oven. Just as she was lifting the disposable tin pan from the rack, the weight of the chicken shifted and grease spilled over the foil corner, onto the oven floor and ran into the burner jets. WHOOSH! The whole oven was on fire and the flames were spreading onto the linoleum floor.

Meanwhile, she’s frantically searching for a fire extinguisher when she realizes there’s one in the laundry room — but it has a protected cover. So one of the girls saws it free with a box cutter from her junk drawer and Debbie sprang into action, spraying extinguisher shmoo over the fire (and floor) and quickly put the fire out.

Everyone’s whooping and hollering with relief when someone yelled, “Did you turn the oven off?” She ran to the oven and turned it off. And the whole crew started cleaning up the mess. The punch line? Debbie told the group, "All this fire fighting makes me hungry!" and the girls drove off to KFC.

Anyway, Rita, my daughter’s fine, but we both know it could have been disastrous. Can you please give me some tips I can share with her to make sure nothing like that ever happens again?


Worried Mom

Dear Worried,

Don’t beat yourself up, our girl made it out in one uncooked piece. If the flame had been any larger, though, she should have just turned the oven off, left the building and called 911. Remember, watching Backdraft in the movie theater does not make you a firefighter.

Since Debbie is a greenhorn in the kitchen, I’m gonna break up my advice into a dozen bite-size pieces:

Are you thinking about cooking?

  • Fire alarms are not decorations. Test yours weekly.
  • Built-up grease is a sure-fire way to get a fire started, so wipe appliance surfaces after spills and clean stovetops and ovens regularly. Open the oven door before you turn it on to make sure there’s nothing inside that’ll catch fire or melt.
  • Buy a couple of fire extinguishers and keep them close at hand. Keep one in your kitchen and laundry room. Take them out of their fancy boxes and cut off any tabs that might keep you from using them. Then practice.

Are you cooking?

  • Leave loose clothes and peep toe shoes for fancy shindigs. Long sleeves are dangerous near an open flame, while close-toed shoes can keep hot water or chicken grease from burning your tootsies.
  • Pick the right kind of cookware for the job. If you’ve got to use a disposable foil pan, put a larger, sturdier metal tray underneath. (And forget the fancy bed linen and get your filly a proper set of cook and bakeware.)
  • Put a cover on food that can splatter. If you’re roasting a chicken and want a crispy skin, remove it from the oven every half-hour and drain some of the hot grease.
  • Cooking food should not be left unattended.
  • Turn off the oven and stove when you’re finished using them.

Do you want to set the oven on fire (again)?

  • Do not open an oven when you can see a flame. Turn off the oven and let the fire burn out on its own.
  • Use your fire extinguisher to put out a fire. In a pinch, baking soda, salt or even dirt from a potted plant can extinguish a flame. (Never, never use water or flour!)
  • If you are able to put the fire out:
    • Open your windows.
    • Open the oven door and remove the hot pan (it’s going to be smoky).
    • Allow the smoke to clear before determining the cause of the fire and possibly resume cooking.
  • If the fire will not go out on its own, leave the house and call 911.

Worried, I’d be shootin’ my mouth off if I told you not to worry — you’re a mom and worry is what we do. What I will tell you, though, is to put the horse before the cart. Make sure your young’un has the proper tools and practices my advice. In the words of that famous cowboy Yogi Bear, only you can prevent kitchen fires.

Now, Worried, I got to go. Word’s out there’s a big ash down and a teenager who has a hankerin’ to use his daddy’s chainsaw.

Yours in safety,

Risk Wrangler Rita

DISCLAIMER: Much like the stories you hear around a campfire, your rememberin’ and mine might be a little different.

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