Kitchen Safety: A Fiery Interview

   By Ellie Schulman, Film and Television student, College of Communication


This past summer I moved into my first place on my own, and while I felt pretty proud that I managed to take care of myself for three months, I have to admit that it was a pretty hilarious experience.

For example, I would sometimes play the age old college game called “How long can I stretch out my food before I actually need to go to the grocery store?” It usually turned into four nights in a row of brown rice and carrots before I ran out of carrots, and then I had to play a new game called, “Malnutrition vs. Money.”

I know, I’m not setting the best example as a nutrition blogger. I’m just being real.

Anyway, as I mentioned, it was kind of hilarious trying to adjust. I learned a very frightening (though rather entertaining in retrospect) lesson through a friend about fire safety, who had a “I’m about to burn my place down” moment, which made me realize that I know nothing about fire-prevention.

So here I am, to teach you kiddos about being smart in the kitchen. I’ve contacted a couple of Safety Specialists from BU’s Environmental Health and Safety Department to give you guys some basic info on how to not set yourself on fire.


Victoria Stoessel: Safety Specialist, Campus & Clinical Safety & Freddy Dusseault:  Senior Safety Specialist, former Fire Chief, Hudson, MA.

What are the top three steps you can take to prevent/put out a fire while cooking? I imagine the first is to know where your fire extinguisher is, correct?

Freddy: Well …not necessarily, when dealing with cooking pan fires you want to know where the pan cover is located, have it nearby. Simply put the cover on the burning pan and the flames soon go out. The fire uses up the oxygen in it and no oxygen = no fire!

If you discharge an extinguisher on a grease fire the “punch” from the initial discharge can be pretty powerful and knock over the flaming pan or splatter the flaming grease / oil on to those nice cabinets or worse the paper plates you are going to eat from and then you REALLY have a problem!

And don’t use water either that will just spread the flames too….So smothering the fire with the cover is really your best bet.

Victoria: Keeping a 2 ½lb fire extinguisher under the sink or in a nearby closet is always a good idea to have in the kitchen area.

Now…how do I use the fire extinguisher?

Victoria: If it becomes necessary to use a fire extinguisher remember PASS:

P: Pull the pin. (The pin of a fire extinguisher might have a zip tie that will break away, set it down and hold it by the neck of the bottle, not the handles, to ensure it doesn’t get stuck while you are trying to remove it).

A: Aim the nozzle. (Point the nozzle of the fire extinguisher towards the BASE of the fire – not the higher flames, if you go for the origin of the fire you are more likely to put it out than if you are just fanning down the fire by aiming higher).

S: Squeeze the handle. (Now that you are holding the nozzle aimed at the base of the fire, squeeze down on the handle to activate the fire extinguisher).

S: Sweep. (In a sweeping lateral motion, aimed at the base of the fire, while squeezing the handle, empty the contents of the fire extinguisher).

REMEMBER – if you have to use a fire extinguisher, you should also be pulling the fire alarm for the building, it might be the fire doesn’t go out so easily & giving other occupants extra minutes to evacuate can be critical. If you empty a fire extinguisher and the fire is still going, close the doors/windows to the room (if possible), evacuate, make sure the alarm has been activated and ensure the authorities have been notified.


The pilot light in my oven just went off and I’m too scared to try figuring it out on my own because I’d like to keep my eyebrows from burning off…how do I get it back on?

Freddy: First determine if the pilot light is the problem and you are not dealing with a natural gas leak. There is a small gas flame usually mid-point between the two burner elements on each side of a stove. If the pilot light is not burning then that is most likely the problem. Open a window to vent the area for ½ hour or so. Lift the top of the stove (it’s hinged) and using a long stemmed lighter or match reignite the small flame at the orifice. Check that the stove will light.

Say me and my fraternity brothers want to set up a grill out front on the sidewalk or on our patio. Are there certain regulations about this? Should I tell Drew that he needs to stop spraying the lighter fluid everywhere?

Victoria: I would keep a close eye on Drew and his lighter fluid – especially if there are any bystanders or anything that might catch around where he’s spraying lighter fluid. Staying away from public path’s would be a good idea – stick to the ground level patio.  

Freddy: As for the city regulations, propane grills and open flame charcoal devices on any level of a dwelling other than ground level are illegal under Massachusetts and Boston Fire Codes. Serious penalties exist for violation of these laws.  Also, where is that the grill when not in use? Is it stored inside the front entry ???? ….not a good idea! Make sure storage is safe and doesn’t clutter up egress routes in and out of

Listen, Victoria, I can’t afford to buy coffee every day, and I definitely need a caffeine boost to make it through my 8am. Actually I need caffeine to make it through anything that lasts more than 30 minutes. Why can’t I have a coffee maker in my dorm?

Victoria: Coffee makers use a lot of heat to brew up the tasty, life giving beverage, which makes them a potential ignition source. They are against BU’s policy to have in dorms because we want to have the least amount of electronics that could start fires as possible. National statistics show that many college fires are started each year by coffee makers – better to be proactive and eliminate one potential source of ignition; plus, we have plenty of great places to grab a cup of Joe on the road.

[In comment on electric grills…] Victoria: Electric grills in dorms are on the list of prohibited items based on Res Life’s guide –there is a chance of catching something on fire – don’t risk it!

Where can I go to find BU fire safety information and regulations?

Victoria: Our EHS Department has a page dedicated to information about fire safety – this is the link:

Freddy: The meaning of life is determined by the….. liver (both the person and organ) – So, be sure you don’t drink too much and you will enjoy a long and meaningful life !  J heh heh

Victoria: To live long enough to figure it out for yourself! Stay safe & keep the cardboard pizza boxes off the stove!

Other Tips


  • ALWAYS stay with whatever you are cooking, do not set a timer and think nothing can go wrong – being attentive is critical to avoiding flare-ups that can lead to a fire.
  • Keep all combustible items away from the cooking area (pizza boxes, paper towels or napkins, even oven mitts or pot holders should be clear of the immediate cooking area.
  • If you wear baggy shirts or big hoodies, keep your sleeves rolled up to ensure that YOU don’t become part of a kitchen fire
  • As a general rule – if you see crumbs before you start cooking, clean them out.
  • [With regard to pizza] remove the pizza from the box and put it on an oven safe tray or directly on the wire racks inside the stove. If it’s a frozen pizza you are taking out of a box – make sure you ALSO remove the cardboard under the pizza before you place it in the stove!

For other kitchen safety information, visit this site:


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