Fire in kitchen should be a lesson to us all
It could happen to anyone. You start to cook something on the stove and leave for just a minute – maybe you’ve done it a hundred times before without consequence.
But this time, something goes terribly wrong and in that minute, a fire cracks and pops into existence, shooting up the wall of your stove and pouring black smoke into the air. What do you do?
Grab the fire extinguisher, right? Do you have one? Is it large enough for your fire? Is it charged up?
And, if the answers to all those questions are “yes,” here’s the most important question of all: Do you know how to use your fire extinguisher and do you know what it is capable of?
That’s the anguishing question Debbie Mays keeps running through her mind after a July 9 fire destroyed her kitchen, put her family temporarily out of their home and effectively halted her livelihood of at-home day care.
“I am licensed to do day care at my home and one of the things required for my license is to have a fire extinguisher,” Mays said. “I remember putting it on the wall seven years ago, and the fireman comes every year on August 17 to service it, so I know it works, but I really didn’t know what it could do. It was devastating.”
Harrowing night. Mays, 45, who has been doing licensed day care through Little Wild Ones Oasis in her Gardnerville Ranchos home since 1993, said the night of the fire she had four children in her house – her two sons, Ricky, 13, and Shawn, 4; and two girls, aged 2 and 4, who were spending the night so Debbie could take them to church the next morning. She was up late getting a leg up on household chores and decided to have a midnight snack, started the frypan and took a quick trip down the hall.
“I heard this loud noise and wondered to myself, ‘What is that?'” she said. “Then I thought, ‘Oh, my God, it sounds like a fire!'”
She ran to the kitchen and in that short amount of time, there were already flames rising up the back of her stove from the frypan. Frantically searching for the fire extinguisher – that one she installed seven years ago and hadn’t needed to use since then – she struggled to get it off the wall while the flames were growing in her kitchen.
Realizing she should get the kids out of the house, Mays grabbed the two girls out of their bed, one by one, and put them out on to the lawn for safety. Getting the boys out, she thought about using the extinguisher, but wasn’t comfortable with it, so she ran across the street to neighbors, Gordon and Jane Higginbotham, and began knocking, yelling, kicking and doorbelling at their door.
Gordon, who later said he considered coming to the door with a gun because he didn’t know what all the ruckus could be, grabbed his small extinguisher, told his wife to call 911 and headed to the Mays house.
Eventually, using Mays’ larger extinguisher, Higginbotham put out the fire, although it kept re-igniting, she said.
Effects of smoke linger. “I have asthma, so I knew if I inhaled too much of that smoke I would be incapacitated, so although I went in with Gordon at first, I had to get out of the house.” Mays said. “Now, weeks later, I am still amazed at how toxic that smoke was.”
Headaches, leg cramps, stabbing stomach pains, a horrible taste in her mouth are just a few of the symptoms Mays said she feels from time to time since the fire.
Mays said the post-fire residue in her home is one of the reasons she and her family are still living in a nearby hotel, awaiting the OK to return home.
“Even when the fire fighters come here and go in – long after the fire – they still suit up so none of their skin is exposed,” she said. “They won’t let us back in yet, and we’ve been having some problems with our insurance company, so it’s slow going, and I am essentially out of a job since my day care is in my home.”
Mays said although she is pretty organized and often thought to herself what precious items – photo albums, stamp collections, etc. – she would take with her in the event of a fire, she didn’t even think of that while dealing with her kitchen fire July 9.
“Those things didn’t even cross my mind,” she said. “I was too busy getting the kids out and trying to put the fire out.”
Use it before a fire. If she could rewind time to the week before the fire, Mays said she would do at least one thing differently.
“I would have used the extinguisher,” she said. “I’m even thinking of doing a demonstration in the back yard with my day care kids after we get in the house, but I’ll have to check with the fire department first.”
Mays said the police were the first on the scene, followed by the paramedics and then the fire department, but by then Higginbotham had the fire mostly out.
“I would have had a lot more damage if it hadn’t been for Gordon,” she said. “He was great.”
Mays, a single mother, said she is anxiously awaiting action by her insurance company so she can get her family back in their home and herself back to work. She urges people to learn what their fire extinguisher can do so that they can act swiftly in the event of a fire in their home.
“Even learning about something is one thing, like CPR or emergency medical treatment,” she said. “The real test comes when you really need it, and then … can you do it?”
Local help. If you have any questions about fire extinguishers, call Terry Taylor, 782-9861 or Steve Eisele, 782-9041 from the East Fork Fire Department.
Fire fighters from the East Fork Fire Department will come to business, schools or county government groups to train people on the proper use of fire extinguishers, Taylor said.
“Or, if you can get a group of 12 or more people together, call us, give us some lead time and we can do a training for free,” he said.
If you want to help. A Mays family fire fund has been set up to help Mays and her kids get back on their feet. Little Wild Ones Oasis will be closed until they return to their Ranchos home. The Bank of America account number is 004961297958, or just mention the Mays family fire fund.
Fire extinguisher tips:
“PASS” is the byword to remember – “pull, aim, squeeze and sweep.”
To use: hold upright, remove plastic tie from handle, pull pin from handle, aim nozzle low at the base of the fire, squeeze handle and the white powdery substance should spray out, and sweep from side to side, still low on the fire.
Generally, the smaller the extinguisher, the smaller the fire it can handle. The suggested type and size for home use is a Dry Chemical ABC, size 2-A: 10-B: C.
Teach everyone in your family how to use a fire extinguisher.
Charge (fill) your extinguisher after each use, or check the pressure gauge to see that it is in the “full” range. Look in the yellow pages under “fire extinguishers.” Disposable units must be discarded after only one use.
Install your extinguisher(s) near an escape route and remember never to turn your back on a fire.
Finally, don’t be a hero. Call 911. Remember, smoke kills more people than fire.