Since January, the Longyearbyen Fire Department and the Governor of Svalbard have responded on six occasions when people fell asleep while cooking after an evening involving lots of alcohol. In October alone, they had to respond twice.
It is not cheap to fall asleep while preparing food. The fire department has a fixed fee of 6,145 kroner and governor establishes a case, which often ends in fine of more than 3,000 kroner. A 60-kroner frozen pizza can thus quickly end up costing 10,000 kroner – without being edible. Fortunately, people understand the seriousness after waking up to a smoke-filled room with a visit from the fire department and governor, and most commit such an error only once, said Fire Chief Jan Olav Sæter.
In Longyearbyen, as in the rest of the country, men ages 20 to 50 are greatly overrepresented in the statistics when it comes to falling asleep while cooking at night.
Both responses in October occurred because the residences were connected to the fire department's direct notification system. Had they not been, the situation could have quickly gotten much worse.
"The direct notification system has definitely averted fatal fires and larger residential building fires," Sæter said.
The fire department has a response time of about ten minutes with the alarm, which even then can result in a lot of smoke, he said.
"The residence can be quite smoky, but we've also seen that it has become hot and scorched between the stove and ventilator," Sæter said. "If it ignites it goes right in the ventilator that is full of grease and so on. And then it has the potential to spread."
The fire department has repeatedly had trouble waking the sleeping meal preparer and Sæter said they have spent up to 20 minutes rousing such people.
After the first ignition inside a residence, it doesn't take long before the entire structure can be overtaken.
"There is five to ten minutes, and then everything in the room is burning and you have a temperature of between 500 and 700 degrees," Sæter said. "It is very vulnerable here where it is so dense, the air is dry and there are high winds. Should the first event happen to turn into a fire, it will develop into a disaster after a relatively short time."
Another advantage of direct notification to the fire department is residences are monitored 24 hours a day, year-round. In the event of an incident when people are away or on vacation, the fire department can detect it at an early stage.
Encouraging other foods
The fire chief said he realizes people are hungry when they come home after a night out on the town, but is asking they think about their well-being and don't necessarily cook up something in the frying pan or oven.
"We urge people to eat crackers or slices of bread when they come home," Sæter said.
Translation: Mark Sabbatini