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Commentary | Dec. 16, 2009

Ground Safety says, ‘Only you can prevent hot-oil fires’

By Staff Sgt. Rickey Barberree Jr. 1st Fighter Wing Ground Safety

The holidays are here, and around my house, that means time for fun, family gatherings and traditions. We sit around, sip hot chocolate and tell funny stories about what happened this time last year. Afterward, we take bets on who will do something worth laughing at this year. Again, this time last year, I was the sure bet and for good reason.

Being the dad, son, brother or husband of someone in the household earned me the honor of frying the holiday turkey for everyone to criticize ... I mean, eat. My wife always says I can't multitask or cook, so I thought this would be the perfect time to prove her wrong. This seemed simple enough for me to handle. Get the house prepared for guests, put the game on the TV, season and fry the turkey. Looking back, I figure this is where my plan was lacking. I left out proper planning for time and safety.

What I did and what I should have done ... well let's just say I don't multi-task well. Maybe now is a good time to mention that I was going to be deep frying the turkey, the whole thing, in a huge pot of oil, on a gas cooker, outside in a snow filled front yard. Thus, I began my checklist:

- I placed it in the front yard, away from the house (not under any carport or garage).
- I connected the gas bottle and moved it as far away from the cooker as possible.
- I placed the oil in the deep pot, then on the cooker.
- I turned on the gas and lit the flame.
- I looked at my watch and realized the guests were on their way, turned up the heat to get the oil hotter quicker ... bad idea.

I decided to go inside and finish final preparations and forgot about the heating oil. I realized this was my main mistake when a neighbor called and said, "You may want to check your front yard because something is on fire and exploding."

See, the idea is to heat up the oil to a certain temperature, then lower the turkey in and fry. Not heat three gallons of oil until it ignites and takes the form of what resembled F-15 afterburner flames. Yes it was hot. Yes it was on fire. And yes, whoever betted on me, won.

So, I had a huge problem. I put the lid on the pot, after acquiring a long-sleeved welding glove, turned off and disconnect the gas bottle, screamed a little, then put some snow on top of the lid to help cool it down. The snow did nothing, but turned to water, which doesn't mix well with a hot oil fire.

Ten minutes later, I decided to check on the oil, now that all of our guests had arrived and were watching, probably wondering about the main course. I took the lid off, and what happened? You guessed it - flash fire! With the lid back on and fire smothered, I decided to leave it alone for a while and try to explain to the guests how I was going to cook the turkey in time for dinner.

There are a few good lessons to learn from my experience:

 Think safety and thoroughly prepare before cooking with hot oil
 Always have the appropriate fire extinguishers available
 Never leave hot oil unattended, monitor level of heat)
 If cooking methods are intended for outside use, avoid buildings and garages
 Have a backup plan for the main course