When I was in elementary school we had what was called Fire Safety Week every year. Firefighters from the local department would come to the school and talk to us about how to prevent fires and how to react to them should they occur. Apparently, I need a refresher course.
I arrived home this evening around 6:00 and immediately began preparing supper. I was making taco salad. Everything was ready — the meat, the veggies, sour cream, salsa — everything but the chips. So, I put some tortilla chips on a small cookie sheet and popped them in the oven under the broiler. When I closed the door I turned around, filled an empty ice tray and put it back in the freezer. I turned back around (less than one minute later) and saw flames leaping from the burners on the stove top. I knew that none of them were on. That’s when I saw the soft amber glow in the window of my oven door.
The chips, the chips, the chips were on fire!!
I quickly reached and turned the broiler off and removed the pan of meat from the top of the stove. I decided that since I didn’t have a fire extinguisher the best thing to do would be to get the cookie sheet out of the oven and dump it in the sink to run water over it. (If the front door had been closer I would’ve taken it outside.) I forgot about the movie Backdraft. When I opened the oven door, the sudden rush of air sucked the flames back into the oven and out the door. I closed the door quickly. As long as the door was closed the inferno was relatively controlled. I tried again but the same thing happened. It was then I realized I might be in trouble. There was no way I was going to be able to put the blaze out, my apartment was filling with smoke, and I’m pretty sure smoke inhalation was setting in.
Fire Safety Week Lesson Number 1: When a fire occurs, call 9-1-1.
I grabbed my wallet, my keys, and my phone and ran out the front door. I called 9-1-1 and the dispatcher acted quickly to dispatch the fire department. In about three minutes I could hear sirens headed my way. I thought that perhaps I should’ve told the dispatcher that it was a small fire confined to my oven. I’m not much for the thought of wasting resources, but no matter now. The cavalry was pulling up — lights and sirens, full bunker gear, industrial sized fire extinguisher in tow. The five firefighters crowded into my small kitchen and prepared to open then oven door. I was sure there would be a repeat of my experience only moments before. Not so much.
When the lead firefighter opened the door, dark black smoke poured out, but I didn’t see any flames. The firefighter reached in with his gloved hand and removed the cookie sheet. There, leaping from the pile of charred corn, was one, tiny flame. It might have been the size of the flame on a birthday candle. I expected him to blow it out, but he didn’t. He (and the other four) took the cookie sheet outside, sat it on the sidewalk, and instead of using a foot, a glove, or the fire extinguisher, they got my neighbor’s water hose. They didn’t even turn the water on. They just held the hose upside down over the chips and let the water that was in it dribble out. The lead radioed in…
Fire out. All clear.
There wasn’t even enough smoke for them to stay and help clear it. One of them told me the best way to get it done. Now, you might think that my embarrassment was complete and couldn’t get any worse. You would be incorrect in your thinking. As I was standing there talking about how to get the smoke out of the apartment, the other firefighters had gone back to the engine and removed their gear. A few of them walked back to the apartment and I realized then that one of them was a former student. My heart sank. My stomach turned and I could feel my face turning red. To his credit he stayed professional. He wasn’t laughing at me — I would’ve been. I looked at him and sheepishly waved. He smiled and waved back. He didn’t let on that he knew me and, at least in front of me, he didn’t make fun of my plight. He was a good firefighter.
As funny as this story is, and it is funny, I am thankful because it could’ve been a lot worse. There is no damage to my apartment or even to my oven. No one was hurt, and except for a rather disgusting smell, there’s little evidence that anything happened. I’m going to get a small fire extinguisher. If I’d had it tonight this event would’ve been over before it started. I’m also going to refresh my memory on the best way to handle kitchen fires, and I’m going to put new batteries in all of my smoke detectors.
Thanks to the Canton, Texas Fire Department for getting here quickly and not making me feel anymore like a fool than I made myself feel.