By Stephanie Babyak, Red Cross volunteer
The holidays are just around the corner, and no holiday celebration would be complete without a feast. However, even normal, everyday activities like making a home-cooked meal can lead to disaster -- a lesson a Catonsville, Maryland family learned all too well.
Last July, the mom arrived home from a long day at work to find her husband and son sitting in a car outside their apartment. They had been cooking when a small grease fire had gotten out of hand, burning the kitchen and causing extensive smoke damage throughout the apartment.
Fortunately, the family and their dog were able to evacuate safely. However, there was too much damage for them to return right away. “I was in shock,” she said. “The fire department said I only had five minutes to get my stuff.”
As the family was not able to stay in the apartment, and with no other place to go, they decided to stay at a local hotel for a few nights so they could figure out what to do next.
“We had no place to go. I was trying to build a home, and now, there’s nothing there,” the mom said. Her husband, however, knew just what to do, and placed a call to the local Red Cross in Baltimore. “I felt like it was a dream. They said, ‘we will come to meet you.’”
The very next day, a Red Cross volunteer visited them to check on how they were doing and to provide financial assistance to meet their immediate needs for clothing and shelter.
“You hear stories about the Red Cross, but I couldn’t believe they were really there. Now, I tell everyone: ‘the Red Cross is real.’ That’s the only thing we have right now.”
The apartment management company helped the family move into another apartment in the complex, and the family is recovering and rebuilding their home and their lives.
“[I] tell people don’t be afraid to call for help … It’s nice to know the Red Cross is there to help when you need them.”
Unfortunately, this Catonsville, Maryland family’s story is not unique. Home fires are the nation’s most frequent disaster. Just in 2022, Red Cross volunteers responded to more than 1,300 home fires in the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake Region.
The fall and winter season is one of the peak times for cooking fires. A few precautions can help keep you and your family safe. For example:
Never leave cooking food unattended. If you need to leave the kitchen, even for a short period of time, turn off the stove.
Move items that can burn away from the stove. This includes dishtowels, bags, paper and curtains. Keep children and pets at least three feet away.
Fires can start when the heat is too high. When frying food, turn the burner off if you see smoke or if the grease starts to boil. Carefully remove the pan from the burner.
Keep a pan lid or a cookie sheet nearby. Use it to cover the pan if it catches fire. This will put out the fire. Leave the pan until it is cool.
Turn pot handles to the back of the stove, so no one bumps them or pulls them over.
You can also help keep your family safe by testing your smoke alarms monthly and practicing your two-minute home fire escape drill.
Visit redcross.org/fire for more information, including how to make an escape plan to practice with your family. You can also download our free Emergency app (search “American Red Cross” in app stores).
Keep yourself and your family safe and enjoy the holidays!