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Cafe Fire Started by Electric Knife


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An important role of security guards is to protect your business from fires. The most common damaging event to any business is a fire that destroys within minutes. I have seen a three bedroom house burn to the ground in under 5 minutes.

Security guards that have been trained properly know how to fight fires using extinguishers and hose reels while getting the fire brigade to attend and help if needed. Guards can be trained to use fire alarm panels and EWIS systems for most large buildings.

The security guards can also assist in fire evacuations if necessary. They are an important part of any business crisis response plan.

Smell of someone making toast

I was on a static guard post in a retail shopping centre while a major store was open for late trade.

I started to smell something like making toast and thought I was going nuts because there were no stores still trading near me. I thought it could have been the major stores bread products of something as customers were walking past. But it was a strong odour.

Why observation skills are important

I started to get concerned and walked around my area closely looking at the closed stores thinking that one of them may have a problem inside. I was walking towards a Café that was placed in the middle of the mall area and suddenly a ball of flame shot towards the roof with a big black cloud of smoke.

I radioed it through immediately and made my way towards the Café.

The Cafe was on fire

I could see that the large toaster oven was on fire and I needed to put it out fast. This area of the mall had no sprinklers and the fire alarm had not detected the fire yet.

The toaster oven was covered in tea towels that were placed there by the staff as they left the store.

The flames were over two meters high and I needed an extinguisher quickly. I grabbed the stores extinguisher and used it to put the fire out, The sprayed white powder made a mess of everything but that couldn't be helped.

Within seconds the fire started again. This was a first for me, fires restarting after I put it out, and I only had a small amount of powder left in the stores small extinguisher.

The electric knife

I then noticed an electric carving knife was wedged in the handle and had turned the toaster oven on which caused the elements to heat up and set fire to the towels. The problem was I now had an electrical fault in the toaster because I couldn't turn the switches off as the knife was melted to them.

I put the fire out again and hoped the fire brigade would get here soon. I had called them on my phone for assistance once I realised the alarms had not activated.

The store had put the toasters main power point in their locked cupboards so I couldn't turn it off at the mains either.

Fire brigade arrive
Using my extinguisher every time the fire started I stopped the rest of the store burning down until the fire brigade turned up. I briefed them on the situation and they just smiled and grabbed an axe. They started chopping through the locked cupboards to turn of the power and stop the toaster from reigniting.

How it happened

The staff place the towels on the toaster to dry them for the next day and had about 20 towels drying on it at this time. In a hurry one of the staff finishing cleaning the electric knife and through it down into the handle of the toaster as it made a perfect improvised holder for the knife.

The problem was that the toaster used 2 rocker switches to turn on and that are placed in the handle area. The knife had hit both switches and turned the toaster on.

Because the toaster had the towels over it no staff noticed it was on.

These towels made a huge sealed blanket effect causing heat to build up and eventually combust once the temperature was right for flame. All it took was a small hole burned into one towel to let in oxygen and the rest burst into flame.

Follow up afterward

I contacted the owners and advised them of the fire and what damage was caused by the fire brigade. So the staff came in to clean it all up before trade next day. The only damage was the toaster, one cupboard, and an electric knife.

I had saved them from losing their entire shop because they had isolated the fire alarm to use the toaster without setting it off every time.

And you know what- they never even offered me a free coffee for saving their store.

© Copyright 2008 by Paul Baker

Information supplied by Paul Baker

Over twenty years security & risk management experience across Australia to protect corporate clients from critical incidents and security risks.

Previously served in the Military and expert in explosives, weapons, and information gathering techniques.

Achieved formal qualifications in a wide range of security risk management skills and commendations for crisis response operations

Security Manager
03 9642 0599


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