Georgian College students in Barrie receive fire lesson
A Barrie firefighter demonstrates how water escalates the already burning cooking-oil fire during a demonstration at Georgian College on Wednesday. CHERYL BROWNE/BARRIE EXAMINER
Black smoke poured from a pan of oil left on a hot stove at Georgian College on Wednesday.
More than 200 students watched and waited for the pan to hit 480 degrees Fahrenheit – the temperature canola oil ignites – to see what would happen next.
A light breeze blew, so the experiment took an extra few minutes, but when it did start to flame at about 11 minutes (instead of the usual five minutes), a geared-up firefighter did exactly what many people do when they see fire; he poured water on it.
The fire increased ten-fold and the tiny faux-kitchen in Georgian’s student residence parking lot was up in flames before you could dial 911.
“Cooking or kitchen fires are the No.1 cause of fires in Canada,” Barrie Fire and Emergency Service’s fire prevention officer Carrie Clark-Weatherup, told the students gathered to watch the fire-safety demonstration.
Dressed in fire gear, Clark-Weatherup said many people would try to grab a burning pot and hustle it outside, or try to use baking soda on the flames to extinguish the fire.
But she pointed out the burning oil will drip on the floor causing more flames to spread, and to get baking soda on the fire, you’d have to stand too close to reach it.
“And the baking soda box is made from cardboard. Cardboard burns, so it’s a bad idea,” she said.
What does work is one of the easiest fixes of all, she said.
“Put a lid on it, ideally one that fits the pan. We recommend a cookie sheet. It will cost you $7, but it’s the best way to put this type of fire out,” she said.
Automotive business student David Marchesan, who lives in the residence behind the demonstration, said he had just cooked chicken in oil the night before.
“I was surprised to hear the baking soda wasn’t a good idea. That surprised me,” he said.
Advertising and marketing student Zachary Sigal said he was amazed how quickly the fire grew.
“I didn’t think it would set the whole kitchen on fire that fast,” Sigal said.
Georgian’s director of campus safety, Roman Calvano, said they’ve had a small number of fires in the residences and rental homes surrounding the college during the past few years.
“If a picture’s worth a thousand words, this was worth more than that because it was live. It only took a matter of minutes for the grease fire to take out the entire kitchen. It was good for the students to see you’re in immediate danger,” Calvano said.
Clark-Weatherup’s message for the students was two simple rhymes.
“Whether it’s the ‘look while you cook’ or the ‘stand by your pan’, it’s easy enough to remember what to do when you’re cooking,” she said. “A lot of these students are on their own for the first time, they have to know what to do.”
After the fire was extinguished, Clark-Weatherup cautioned the students to ensure they have content insurance coverage – usually covered on their parent’s insurance – because most people are out of their home for about three months after a kitchen fire.