Sunday, November 18, 2007

Grease Fires As a Metaphor For Growing Up

Today I'm pondering the link to a video emailed by a reader. It's about what to do during a kitchen grease fire and it raises some important issues about personal responsibility and safety.

Click here for more.
Here I am sitting in my office on a Sunday morning waiting for my team of residents to get bombed with admissions. I'm attending on the wards this month, we're on "long call" today, and our hits will begin at noon.

So during these lazy moments before the storm, I'm pondering the link to a video emailed by a reader. It's about what to do during a kitchen grease fire (this is actually a link I found on and it loads more reliably):

As a public service announcement, it's a truly riveting 30 second piece of footage. I've found this video on various sites on the internet but can't seem to determine who produced it.

It suggests:
  1. Turning off the heat under the flaming pan.
  2. Putting a soaked towel on top to smother it.
  3. And as it dramatically demonstrates, do NOT pour water over it as this will cause the fire to explode.
I've looked at a number of websites such as this one by the United States Fire Administration (part of the Department of Homeland Security) to confirm the above. The message is pretty much as outlined in the video although each of the sites I looked at recommended just covering the pan with a lid rather than the towel.

This makes more sense to me because it's faster and obviously avoids the problem of dripping water into the pan. The point is also made that in the event of a microwave or oven fire, the best thing to do is simply close the door rather than try to extinguish it. This should put put it out rather quickly.

So why would I post a safety tip on this blog having never been interested enough to do so before? Two reasons.

One, the video itself is incredible.

Two, it raises the very important issue of personal safety. In my life, I've always been rather lackadaisical about such things. In fact, I used to be annoyed by "commercials" such as this one. I've also been more or less amused by people who assemble "survival kits" for their home which seemed to me to be a quaint and anachronistic holdover from the cold war.

I no longer feel this way. While I'm no "survivalist" and don't anticipate heading for the mountains to live off of berries and bugs, I definitely have come to see self-protection as part of the responsibility that comes with adulthood. The cause of these changes in my life is probably multifactorial.

Maybe part of it is spillover from the deep psychic wound all Americans suffered from 9/11. Perhaps a lot of it is the change that comes with fatherhood (which occured unusually late for me). Some of it may have even arisen from my experiences as an academic hospitalist and being immersed in the problem of inpatient safety.

In fact, videos such as the one above are important because when they are this well-made they tend to jar us from our apathy. I'm not one to dwell on how dangerous the world is and how fragile life can be; some perspective is definitely in order or we'll drive ourselves crazy.

But we should all engage at least the easy fixes in life such as knowing what to do during a kitchen grease fire. When there's an emergency, brain-lock is something we're all susceptable to. The more we think about the simple things in advance, the faster (and more correctly) we'll respond when it happens. Isn't that why those of us in health care periodically get recertified in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and dutifully drill in those obnoxious "mega-codes"?

Maybe the next time we fly, we should all pay a little more attention when the flight attendants bore us with where the nearest exits are and how to get those doors open.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The video is no longer there and will not play now.

November 24, 2007 12:37 PM  
Blogger The Medicine Man said...


It seems to play now. Try it again. Note that the first few seconds are silent and black.


November 24, 2007 10:43 PM  

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