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Teaching and Technology: A Recipe for Safe Cooking

As national statistics and most fire chiefs attest, cooking is the #1 cause of home fires and fire injuries in the United States, resulting in more than $1 billion in direct property damage every year (source: NFPA). One of the main reasons is unattended cooking on electric coil stoves. Conventional electric coils can reach temperatures as high as 1652°F – hot enough to melt aluminum and well above 750°F, the auto-ignition point for most cooking oils.

For a number of years now, there has been growing interest in technology that limits the high-end temperature of electric-coil elements. One after-market product has proven to be so effective that it has been installed in more than 250,000 homes and apartment buildings without a single reported cooking fire. It’s one reason that appliance manufacturers have been required to meet a new UL standard for all new electric-coil stoves; UL 858 60A requires that all new electric coil stoves meet a minimum cooking oil ignition test.

While very promising, it remains to be seen how effective the new stoves will be at actually reducing cooking fires. But without a doubt, it is a giant step forward in helping to build greater awareness for the cooking-fire problem. Of course, with millions of older model stoves already in use in homes across America, the scale of the current problem will remain high for years – likely decades.

Progressive fire departments have turned to proven technology to address this problem now. This includes the Worcester (Massachusetts) Fire Department (WFD), which was selected as one of 12 model programs at Vision 20/20’s Model Performance in CRR Symposium in April 2018.

At the direction of Worcester Fire Chief Michael Lavoie, CRR/education officer Lt. Annie Pickett conducted a thorough risk assessment. She recorded a total of 559 residential cooking fires in 2014 and a 3.3% increase to 578 cooking fires in 2015, resulting in one civilian death and two fire-service injuries.

Working with the Worcester Housing Authority (WHA) to analyze locations and populations at disproportionate risk, Worcester Fire Department (WFD) identified four properties housing low-income older adults that represented nearly 24% of all reported cooking fires in 2015, with a shocking average of 12 incidents per month.

WFD applied for and received an FY15 Fire Prevention & Safety (FP&S) grant from FEMA to support a collaborative effort to replace conventional electric-coil burners with a new option installed with temperature-limiting control technology. This technology keeps the burner’s temperature to below the flashpoint of most cooking oils and prevents auto-ignition. This technology has been installed successfully in homes and apartments for years with 100% efficiency. The new burners are tested and listed to UL 858 and meet the new UL 858 60A standard.

During the FY15 period of performance, the WFD team worked with WHA to retrofit approximately 920 electric stoves with temperature-limiting control and also provided on-site safety education to about 1,000 residents. The results were impressive.

To date, no stovetop fires have been reported in units where temperature-limiting burners were installed, and WFD has seen a 97% reduction in cooking-related call volume.

Inspired by this tremendous success, WFD applied for and received two additional FP&S grants that allows them to install the new burners in all senior housing in the community.

Worcester represents one of many examples of how fire departments are using innovative technology solutions to – in Vision 20/20’s terms – “Get Ahead of the Call.”


Get more information about the Worcester Fire Department’s retrofit program (PDF). 


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