Don’t Be The Turkey

CarolinaFireJournal - By Dave Murphy
By Dave Murphy
10/26/2015 -

As Thanksgiving approaches, many turkey fryers will come out of storage in preparation for the traditional holiday meal. According to the National Fire Protection Association, cooking equipment is the leading cause of home structure fires and associated civilian injuries and the third leading cause of home fire deaths.


The propane fryer method, which has become increasing popular in recent years, requires placing the turkey in three or more gallons of oil, heated by propane. Because of the dangers frequently associated with the devices, the National Fire Protection Association has urged consumers not to utilize these types of fryers. Also, Underwriters Laboratories, Inc., an independent product safety testing organization, has decided not to certify, with their UL mark, any turkey fryer.

Here are some of NFPA’s concerns associated with their use:

  • It is common for oil — an average volume of five gallons — to spill/froth over the pot and onto the burner when the turkey is placed in the pot, creating a fire often on a combustible surface such as a deck or multi-level units.
  • These units produce very hot temperatures and they can tip over very easily, spilling scalding hot, combustible oil onto anyone or possibly igniting anything nearby.
  • Most of the units do not have thermostatic controls, allowing oil to heat — in excess of 350 F — until ignition occurs.


If you choose to use your turkey fryer, please utilize a few common sense tips:

  • Place the turkey fryer on a stable and level surface, away from combustibles.
  • Never use them on a wooden deck or in a garage where other combustibles most likely exist.
  • Keep others — especially children — away from the fryer when in use and until it cools down.
  • Do not overfill with oil; this is a very common mistake. Be conservative when estimating the amount of oil needed to cover the turkey, you can always add more. Wear gloves and other appropriate clothing when placing the turkey in the hot oil.

The NFPA continues to believe that turkey fryers that use cooking oil, as currently designed, are not suitable for safe use by even a well-informed and careful consumer — including firefighters. The NFPA further urges those who prefer fried turkey to seek out professional establishments, such as grocery stores, specialty food retailers, and restaurants, for the preparation of the dish. Consumers may even consider an upgrade to the “oil less” turkey fryer; several are noted on Amazon in the $100 to $150 range.

How many of you as emergency responders have witnessed a turkey fryer as the primary ignition source firsthand? Do not let a preventable tragedy spoil your holiday — and those that you are there to protect. Perhaps a little bit of public fire education is in order as the holiday approaches? Put your heads together and seek innovative methods to spread the fire safety message in your community. It may be possible to achieve this via media sponsored public service announcements, your website, banners in visible areas, or better yet, live displays in person at the park or the mall.

The cost of this easily implemented public service program would be minimal — and it just might save a life — possibly yours as the firefighter fighting an entirely preventable fire? Let’s all enjoy a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving meal, and if we follow the NFPA’s advice, we, or someone that we have taken the time to educate won’t be the turkey that burns the house down!

Source of information: National Fire Protection Association

Dave Murphy retired as Assistant Chief of the Richmond (Kentucky) fire department. He currently serves as an Associate Professor in the Fire and Safety Engineering Technology program at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He serves on NFPA 610, which deals with safety at motorsports venues.
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