Take a look behind the scenes of the fire demonstration.
Take a look behind the scenes of the fire demonstration.
See what happens when water is tossed onto a grease fire.
A FireStop device activates, extinguishing a stove fire.
Halloween is a fun holiday but it’s also an important time to …
CPSC staff recommends consumers who choose to fry turkeys …
Updated: Thursday, 25 Oct 2012, 11:52 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 25 Oct 2012, 7:29 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Fire is the most common danger we face inside our homes. But, you might be surprised to learn nearly half of all house fires are started intentionally — on a stove. Do you know what to do if fire breaks out in your kitchen?
It’s a critical question.
Know the right way to respond, and your home can be spared. Try to put the fire out the wrong way, and you’ll quickly make things even worse.
THE FIGHT OF HIS LIFE
On a warm August evening in downtown Indianapolis, bad news quietly knocked on Tony Hedrick's apartment door.
It was a simple message from a friend: his brother Gregory was in the fight of his life.
“He said Gregory done set himself on fire,” Tony said, shaking his head. “That was a hard moment. I’ll never forget it. It hurts me that I wasn’t there to stop it.”
The two had been sitting on the couch in Tony's apartment passing time just hours before. As the clock ticked toward sunset, Gregory, 53, headed home for dinner — complete with a bag of food his brother had made.
“I always took care of him, in a way,” Tony said. “He had some medical issues, and he had a tube he had to put in his side. I took care of it twice a day for two years.”
When Gregory got home, he went to heat the food up. Like he had done hundreds of times before, he put a pan of oil on the stove and turned the burner on.
But, this time, Tony says his brother laid down to rest and fell asleep. A few minutes later, neighbors smelled smoke and called 911. When firefighters arrived, they found Gregory suffering on the floor, severely burned over 80 percent of his body.
To this day, Tony has never been back inside.
“I couldn't,” he said, choking back tears. “I couldn't look at it.”
The fire left his family facing a heartbreaking choice.
“He would have had about 15 surgeries, and they didn't even think he could make it through the first one,” Tony said. “It was hard. I had to tell my mother that I can't be the one to make the decision.”
Tony was by his brother's side the next day as doctors at Wishard Memorial Hospital took Gregory off life support.
BEHIND THE NUMBERS
Gregory Hedrick’s story is just one of many now told far too often across the country. Last year, more than 40 percent of all fires nationwide began on the stove, causing 480 deaths and nearly $1 billion in property damage. Cooking is the leading cause of residential fires in Indiana too — more than electrical, heating, smoking, candles and arson combined.
To find out what’s behind those numbers, 24-Hour News 8 borrowed a vacant house on the northwest side slated for demolition and enlisted the help of the Pike Township Fire Department and fire safety officer Brian Sauer.
Lt. Sauer’s crews helped respond to 234 cooking fires in Marion County in 2011 alone.
“It's very easy for [a cooking fire to burn out of control],” Sauer said. “If you leave something unattended on the stove and you're using a cooking oil, if it gets hot enough, it will auto ignite."
Cooking oil smokes as it approaches that ignition point.
“Depending on the oil, that can be anywhere between about 450 degrees and about 800 degrees,” Sauer explained.
Once it reaches that point, without warning, the oil can burst into flames.
“If you leave it for even a minute or two, then the fire's going to get up into the cabinets, go across the ceiling and ignite the entire kitchen,” Sauer said.
That's why the next step is so critical.
As a Pike Township firefighter in full gear stood over a flaming pan of oil, Sauer explained the correct way to put the fire out.
“He's going to turn off the burner, then slide a lid over the top, and leave it for 10-20 minutes, until everything cools down,” Sauer explained. “And if you don’t have a lid nearby, you can use a cookie sheet or even a wet towel. Just soak it with water and put it right over the top to cover it completely.”
Then, walk away and call the fire department.
Taking the lid back off too soon can cause the oil to reignite. Moving the pan can make things even worse.
“If you move the pan, all it takes is a small amount of grease to come out of the pan, and you can set fire to your clothes or other things in the kitchen,” Sauer said.
GREASE FIRES AND WATER DON’T MIX
Gregory Hedrick did what many of us might do when he saw the pan light up with flames. He moved it to the sink in order to run the flaming grease under water.
But, instead of putting the flames out, Hedrick found himself facing an inferno.
“He couldn't get out of the way. He didn't know which way to turn,” Tony Hedrick said.
Firefighters later found the pan still smoldering on the floor.
To prove just how quickly the wrong choice can turn deadly, 24-Hour News 8 set cameras up at seven different vantage points around the kitchen in that vacant house. With hoses unrolled and standing by, firefighters poured one cup of water into less than one cup of hot oil that had just caught fire.
The resulting flashover filled the entire kitchen with rapidly expanding flames.
“Putting water on a grease fire is the worst thing you can do. When water reaches its boiling point, it expands into steam. And, whatever that fixed amount of water is expands 1,700 times. So, we increased the flame we had [on the stovetop] by 1,700 times,” Sauer said.
The flames our demonstration created were short lived. But, they were so intense that they charred the ceiling and rolled out an open window in the back of the room.
"That would have been enough to catch curtains, drapes, [cabinets] — anything in that path — on fire,” Sauer said.
STOVETOP FIRE STOP
There is a simple way to prevent that damage and heartbreak from happening in the first place, and it comes from an unlikely source: a small canister mounted above your stove.
Its manufacturers in Texas call it the StoveTop FireStop. About the size of a large tuna can, it’s filled with a flame resistant powder and attaches with a strong magnet. If a fire breaks out on the stovetop, its manufacturers claim it does the work to put the fire out — even if no one else is in the room.
With the help of Lt. Sauer, 24-Hour News 8 put the device to the test. With the same pan of hot oil back heating on the burner, flames once again began to lick at the vent hood above the stove. But, this time, they lit a small fuse on the underside of the device. 15 seconds after the flames broke out, the can popped open, and the powder inside dumped out.
All that was left behind was a cloud of white smoke and a smoldering pan.
“What a neat tool,” Sauer said as the cloud of powder began to dissipate. “I've never seen them in operation before, but clearly they work.”
Asked if the device could help save lives, Sauer shrugged his shoulders.
“I think the demonstration speaks for itself,” he said.
You don't have to convince Maurice Mason that the Fire Stop might help save lives. He’s convinced it already has.
Two years ago, his neighbor in the Mount Zion Suburban Apartments on Michigan Road fell asleep while food was frying on the stove.
“It was smoking like crazy. It was so thick in the hallway, it was like a blizzard,” he remembered.
But, inside her vent hood was a StoveTop FireStop. While the oil smoked for several minutes, it was only a few seconds after the pan burst into flames before the fire was out.
Asked if he thought the device had saved her apartment, Mason didn’t hesitate.
“Sure, absolutely,” he said. “And, mine too. I don't take it for granted.”
Neither did the apartment complex.
With the help of some federal low income housing grants, every resident at Mount Zion now gets a pair of $50 FireStops installed in their apartment free of charge. Since then, apartment managers credit the device for saving two more apartments from going up in flames.
“We've used them a couple times when the residents were cooking something on the stove and it got out of control, and the range queens opened up and put the flames out. We've been very fortunate with the systems we have put in. They have curtailed a lot of fires here,” said apartment manager Ebenezer Smith.
Asked if he was surprised the devices aren’t used in more homes, Smith nodded.
“It really surprises me — because it's really a savings and your residents are really protected,” he said.
Tony Hedrick can't help but wonder what might have been too.
A damaged kitchen can be repaired. A life lost can never be replaced.
“Evidentially, it would have saved his life,” he said. “If he did have it right there, he would still be here.”
SPREADING THE WORD
To help get the word out about the dangers of cooking fires, the right and wrong ways to put them out, and the options for home protection — like the StoveTop FireStop — WISH-TV has organized a community fire safety event on Saturday, Nov. 10. The event will be held in the parking lot at North Meridian Hardware, 1433 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., and will feature fire safety education from several local departments, CrimeStoppers identification kits for children, interactive demonstrations of firefighting techniques and opportunities to win free pairs of StoveTop FireStop devices.
The event is free of charge.