Jonathan Fuqua, fire education specialist, “extinguishes” a simulated fire in kitchen of the Covington Fire Department’s Fire, Instruction, Resource, Education, or F.I.R.E., Place. October is Fire Prevention Month, and this year’s theme is fire safety in the kitchen. The F.I.R.E. Place is located in a renovated home on Ivy Street and is used for various training and education courses. (Staff photo: Aimee Jones)
COVINGTON — Kitchen fires can start quickly and if you’re not careful, they can spread uncontrollably.
October is Fire Prevention Month and this year’s theme is fire safety in the kitchen. Newton County has a unique resource in its own backyard to educate the public about fire safety and prevention.
With the Covington Fire Department’s Fire, Instruction, Resource, Education, or F.I.R.E., Place, fire educators can offer hands-on, state-of-the-art instruction in a renovated house located at 2157 Ivy St., between Emory and Monticello streets.
“This is more than a news story,” said Jonathan Fuqua, fire education specialist with the CFD. “To me, this is about saving people’s lives.”
One feature of the F.I.R.E. Place is its kitchen that is outfitted with a BullEx Smart Stove that simulates a stove catching on fire, along with special effects such as a trash can that catches on fire and an oven and cabinets that seem to blaze.
It’s all done electronically with no actual flame, but there are also fire extinguishers that coincide with the equipment to give the experience of putting out a fire.
With this tool, people who attend the various fire safety classes offered by the CFD can gain practical tips on how to prevent a kitchen fire and experience first-hand how to extinguish a fire in the kitchen.
“The most common cause of kitchen fires is unattended cooking,” Fuqua said. “People can forget they have something on the stove and walk away without turning it off.”
He said accidents also happen when kids - or even adults - knock pans off the stove if the pot handles are not turned in.
“We recommend setting up a 3-foot safety area around the stove,” Fuqua said, adding that he has a floor mat in front of his stove at home that is off-limits to his son to keep him at a safe distance from the cooking area.
Fuqua said it is also important to keep the stove and cooking area clean because grease build-up, particularly on the vent hood, can be a risk factor in kitchen fires.
“It’s not the grease that catches fire, it’s the fumes off the grease,” he said.
Consequently, if a fire should start on the stove, it is important not to move the pan and agitate the grease. Instead, the person cooking should wet a towel and wrap it around his arm, place a lid on the blazing pot or pan and turn off the heat. In the event of a fire in the oven, Fuqua stressed not to open the door, but to let it die out naturally.
“Fire needs three thing: heat, fuel and oxygen,” he said.
Even if a fire is successfully extinguished, Fuqua said it’s important to still call the fire department to make sure a fire isn’t still smoldering in the walls.
In addition to the kitchen area, The F.I.R.E. Place also has a bedroom that can allow people going through the training to learn how to escape a burning, smoke-filled bedroom.
Fuqua, who came on board with CFD in August after serving as firefighter with the Newton County Fire Service since 2002, said the F.I.R.E. Place is unique in that it is one of the first free-standing fire-safety houses in the state. With its classroom, it can accommodate groups that want to receive instruction on a number of fire safety techniques, such as stop, drop and roll; using a fire extinguisher; E.D.I.T.H. plans, which stands for exit drills in the home; and CPR. All the courses are free, except for the CPR certification, which costs $6, Fuqua said.
While much fire safety instruction focuses on school-age children, many adults from area businesses and organizations take advantage of the trainings offered.
Fuqua said many adults may think they don’t need training in fire safety and prevention, but until you’re actually in a crisis situation, you don’t know how you will react.
“I would encourage all people to have a refresher course,” he said, adding that people can ask any firefighter for advice. “Fire education is not just my job — it’s all our jobs.”
Fuqua said he has reached more than 700 citizens since August with fire safety courses.
Fire education is important to Fuqua, who recounted a time when he conducted a fire safety education course at a local elementary school a few years ago and later that night, a fire was reported at the home of a student who had participated in the course.
“She did what she was supposed to do and everyone got out safely,” Fuqua said. “I count that as a success.”
Anyone who is interested in learning more about the F.I.R.E. Place or about fire education courses can contact Jonathan Fuqua at 678-712-9387 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.