As of Jan. 16, I am officially 41 but I almost did not make it. I owe a debt of gratitude to Keith, a firefighter from northern California who happened to be in the right place at the right time.

While attending a soirée hosted by a neighbor, my favorite Elie Tahari sweater began smoking. (I’ve been trying to get him to kick that nasty habit.) Although in retrospect I remember smelling something odd, it was only due to Keith’s keen sense of smell that I was not completely engulfed in flames. I am also grateful for the fact that my sweater was made of 100 percent merino wool with no synthetic fibers which are more flammable than natural fibers.

The fire, ironically, started in the kitchen which is where most home fires and related injuries occur. Our host had placed some single votive candles at random areas on the kitchen counter. One candle happened to be right next to my sleeve but I didn’t notice it as I leaned against the counter while talking to the other guests. Keith had been asking me about my day and as I was answering, he suddenly darted across the room, grabbed my arm, pushed the votive out of my way and doused the flames. Aside from the large burn marks on my beautiful cream colored sweater, no other harm was done and on the plus side, it spawned a good story.

I have always wanted to explore and explain the rules of fire safety in the kitchen so perhaps this incident was the universe’s way of saying, “No time like the present.”

Having worked in various areas of health care as I dietitian, I can tell you that the area I feared most was the burn unit. Seeing the aftermath of a burn victim brings an intense twinge to my entire body as if I feel the victim’s pain. I can only imagine and it breaks my heart.

While working in an acute care hospital in Las Vegas, I dreaded the days when I had to fill in for the dietitian who specialized in burn victims. Although I might only be in the burn unit for one day, I was always afraid I would miscalculate their energy, fluid or protein needs and they would not get enough nutrition to heal properly. I knew that with these patients, time was truly of the essence. The body is an amazing machine that is always on the mend and optimal nutrition is the key to continued growth and repair.

I’ve always been more of a prevention guru than someone who puts out fires along the way. So instead of fearing that your needs may or may not be met should you suffer a severe burn, I’m going to do my part to educate and hopefully prevent any potential accidents.

First of all, do not wear loose fitting clothing while cooking, especially hanging sleeves like my sweater. This is great news for men who are trying to get their women to dress sexy in the kitchen. However, this is no place to bear midriffs or show a little leg. We need to protect our precious skin from potential burns such as splattering oil or boiling water. Anything hot, aside from your love for each other, has the potential to cause burns.

Never leave anything on the stove unattended, so if things really do start to heat up in the kitchen, please turn off all ovens and burners and remove items from the heat before getting hot and heavy yourself.

Do not leave towels or potholders or any flammable material on or near the stove. So if clothes come off, please make sure they hit the floor.

Plug all electronic devices directly into the socket and never into an extension cord.

If you ever do find yourself on fire, I hope it’s your relationship. Otherwise, remember to stop, drop and roll to put out any literal fires.

Always keep an oven mitt and a lid nearby, especially if you cook with oil. If a small grease fire erupts, smother the flames by carefully sliding the lid over the pan. Turn off the burner but do not remove the pan. Leave the lid on and the pan in place until it is completely cool.

In case of an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed to prevent flames from burning your clothing. If you have a microwave fire, turn it off immediately and the keep the door closed. Do not open the door until the fire is completely out. Unplug the appliance if you can reach the outlet safely. As a preventative and basic sanitation measure, keep all appliances clean and in good working order.

For small grease or electrical fires, you can use baking soda or a fire extinguisher. Each type of fire requires a different class of extinguisher so the best advice is to keep one in your kitchen that is labeled Class A, B and C. But just for your information, Class A is for wood and paper fires, B is for grease fires and C is for electrical fires.

If at any time the fire gets out of control, evacuate your residency, close the door and call 911, and maybe you will be lucky enough to be rescued by one of those hot firemen we’ve seen in those calendars.

At the very least, please wear natural fiber clothing while in the kitchen or near an open flame, keep candles in protective containers and away from areas where guests congregate, and practice the rules of kitchen fire safety at all times. And most importantly, be grateful each day for your health and safety.

Elizabeth is a registered dietitian and certified holistic chef who believes in safety first, and also lots of fun, as long as it’s done safely. For more information, please visit her Web site:

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