CAMDEN, Maine — Stovetop fires are the leading cause of house fires and a couple of Islesboro firefighters have invented a surefire way to put them out.
Called the FryerFighter, the device is a 3-foot-square piece of specially treated fabric able to withstand temperatures up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. A common grease fire reaches a temperature of 700 degrees at its flash point.
Weighing 1 pound, the FryerFighter blanket is stored in a plastic tube suitable for keeping on a kitchen counter or hanging near the stove. Should a stovetop fire erupt, the cook can reach for the tube, remove the FryerFighter and smother the flames with the blanket. The blanket is made of a synthetic, nonasbestos-based product. The FryerFighter retails for $29.
The FryerFighter is the brainchild of Brian Hauprich, an Islesboro firefighter. Hauprich said the idea came about a few years ago after the department extinguished a kitchen fire that had started in a frying pan of bacon. The homeowner attempted to put the fire out with a potholder and ended up catching that on fire as well, burning her hand in the process and setting another fire when she threw the burning cloth against the wallpaper. The Fire Department arrived in time to put out the fire and prevent serious injury.
“I said to myself, ‘Hey, there must be some way to knock out a simple pan fire,’” Hauprich recalled. “So I started trying things out.”
Together with his son, Jack, 14, a junior firefighter on the island, and his wife, Mary, who is also a member of the department, Hauprich began experimenting. For months, he and his son could be seen out in the yard attempting to smother burning grease fires.
“He and Jack set most of my kitchen pans on fire,” said Mary.
Hauprich eventually settled on an American-made fabric for his blanket. He cuts the blankets from larger bolts of fabric and serges their edges on a sewing machine. The women of the 150-year-old Islesboro Sewing Circle taught him how to serge, or finish off the edges, of the blankets.
Hauprich and his wife grew up in New York and moved to Islesboro a decade ago. They found themselves isolated their first years on the island, but eventually settled into the community, including joining the Fire Department. Besides their son Jack, the couple has a daughter, Kate, 21, who lives in North Carolina. The couple are renting a place in Camden where Jack attends high school.
Hauprich is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has worked in restaurants and as a personal chef. He said kitchen fires are the leading cause of house fires, “because everybody cooks.”
Hauprich said the FryerFighter was a better alternative to smother a pan fire than baking soda or salt, because “you need pounds of it to put out a fire. Who keeps pounds of salt and baking soda around? This is very safe, very easy to use.”
He said the big problem with stovetop fires is that people panic. Throwing water on the blaze or attacking the fire with a fire extinguisher can only make it worse, he said.
“What happens is that these methods only serve to splash the flames, spreading the fire and often causing serious injuries,” he said.
Hauprich said FryerFighters have received a lot of attention from fire departments. They are used by departments as part of their fundraising programs, as well as a fire safety device. Boatyards and recreational vehicle owners also have been good customers. The Hauprichs intentionally began their company slowly but began selling FryerFighters at craft fairs and over the Internet.
The Hauprichs hope that as the FryerFighter gains in popularity, they can expand their manufacturing and create economic development on the island.
“It would be great employment for the island,” said Mary. “I can’t wait until there’s a FryerFighter in every home.”