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Burns and Smoke Inhalation from Kitchen Fires Can Be Deadly–and Preventable

In Las Vegas in early October, a casino employee was lucky to have survived after suffering smoke inhalation after a fire started inside his restaurant’s grease duct.

Firefighters quickly doused the fire a little before 9 a.m. on a Sunday at the Wynn Las Vegas Resort, and damage was confined to a small mechanical room. And the local fire chief credited the design of the duct system for containing the fire. The Wynn resort is about 10 years old, so it has a very modern design that helps with fire prevention so that a small fire cannot spread easily and become a large fire that threatens any more lives.

On the other hand, many older restaurants around the country are not designed in the same way. As a result, they have a much higher chance of being engulfed in a rapidly-spreading fire if their grease ducts and air ducts are not cleaned regularly. Restaurant managers have an obligation to make sure this cleaning happens enough so that there is only a small chance of a grease fire growing out of control.

Here’s another lesson to be learned from this story: Restaurant patrons should always locate the fire exits in a restaurant before they sit down at a table. Even a few seconds can make a difference between life and death when evacuating from a fire, so know where to go if a fire does break out.

Fortunately, once the fire was discovered in the back of the Stratta restaurant at Wynn Resort, employees evacuated customers from their breakfast tables, and also from the adjacent casino areas, while firefighters vented smoke through a hotel skylight.

Things do not always turn out so well with kitchen fires, though. In Kansas City recently, a restaurant employee turned out to be not as lucky as the one in Las Vegas. Now, he has finally come home from the hospital to continue healing after he suffered severe burns that came from hot grease.

Gary Cifuentes, 22 years old, almost never complained while in the hospital for over a month, receiving painful treatments for burns that covered more than 50 percent of his body. Doctors released him from the burn center at the University of Kansas Hospital in early October. “The truth of it,” he said about his survival, “is that it has been a miracle.”

In late August, the restaurant worker was critically burned by a vat of grease that spilled on him when a car slammed into the side of the restaurant he worked at in Olathe, KS.

Cifuentes spoke to media through an interpreter Friday just before his release to stay with family in Kansas City, KS. He spoke from a wheelchair, his arms and hands in special wraps. There will be many more painful dressing changes and trips to the hospital, but doctors expect him to make a full recovery. “They tell me to keep working hard and keep moving forward,” he says. He also thanked God for being alive, thanked medical staff and thanked family and friends, who almost never left his side in the hospital. Kansas workers’ compensation is paying for his care, but it is unclear whether the fund will cover all of the costs.

Again, the lesson here is this: Kitchens are among the most common places for people to suffer severe burns and smoke inhalation. Therefore, everyone should think ahead of time and take precautions when in the kitchen, to avoid being injured.