By Linda Looney-Bond
Georgia Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner John Oxendine urges Georgians to use caution while cooking during the holidays, and to take general fire-safety precautions.
"In past years, we've had numerous fatal fires, which were cooking-related," Oxendine said. "Many fires are caused by a stove that has been accidentally left on," he added. "If neglected, a stove can heat a pan to the point that the metal melts."
Oxendine suggested the following tips for cooking safety:
* Always set a timer when cooking, so you never forget to turn off the burners or oven.
* If a pan catches fire, cover it with a lid immediately and turn off the burner.
* Wear tight-fitting sleeves when cooking. Loose clothing can contact a burner and ignite. If this happens, remember, "stop, drop, and roll." Stop where you are, cover your face with your hands, and roll to smother the flames.
* Never use a cooking stove to heat your home.
* Install an adequate number of smoke alarms. Most fatal fires start between 11 p.m., and 6 a.m., while the family is asleep. The advance warning of a smoke alarm may mean the difference between life and death.
* Each household should have a well-rehearsed family escape plan. All rooms, especially bedrooms, should have two escape routes. Have a pre-determined meeting place outside the house to ensure everyone is out safely.
* Have a fire extinguisher readily available. The dry chemical kind of extinguisher is usually safe for both grease and electrical fires. If a small fire is caught in time, you may be able to quickly put it out.
* If the fire is too large for an extinguisher, get out of the house and stay out. Do not go back inside. Call the fire department from a neighbor's house.
In addition, knowing that many people have last-minute gifts to buy, social events to attend, and family friends to visit during the holiday season, the American Red Cross offered the following health and safety tips:
* Prepare your vehicle for traveling. Make an emergency kit and include items such as blankets or sleeping bags, jumper cables, fire extinguisher, compass and road maps, tire repair kit, extra clothing, flares, and tow rope.
* Drive safely. Avoid driving in a storm, but if you must, keep your gas tank full for emergency use, and keep the fuel line from freezing. Also, let someone know your destination, route, and when you expect to arrive.
* Cut down on heating bills: Get your furnace cleaned by a professional, change filters regularly. Make sure heat vents aren't blocked by furniture. Close off any rooms you aren't using, and close heat vents or turn off radiators in those rooms.
* Be a lifesaver during the holidays: The Red Cross recommends that at least one person in every household should be trained and certified in first aid and CPR/AED. Your local Red Cross chapter has conveniently scheduled courses and can have you trained and certified in a few hours.
For more information, visit www.redcross.org.