Thanksgiving: a Time for Family, Friends -- and Danger

November 25, 2010 6 min read

By Peter Rowe

Dana Parks isn't psychic, but he can predict how he'll spend the rest of this week.

He'll meet scads of frantic San Diegans.

And, because Parks is a plumber, he knows what they'll tell him.

"Their impacted, gravy-laden lines," he said, "are exploding."

Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy relatives and friends, contemplate one's blessings, and savor good food and drink. But the holiday can be too much of a good thing. For plumbers, this is the busiest time of the year, thanks to garbage disposals clogged with the remains of large meals. Fire departments and emergency rooms also brace for action, as the day can be a combustible mix of calories, alcohol, intergenerational athletics, family quarrels, boiling oil, open flames and carving knives.

The dangers, while many, tend to be grouped in three broad categories.


Pre-meal activities sometimes include a friendly game of football or basketball. Fun! But when Dad jumps to block Junior's three-point shot, or Grandpa leaps to snag a pass in the end zone, the result is often the same — game over.

Dr. Davis Cracroft, medical director at Scripps Mercy Hospital, expects to see a rise this week in emergency room visits for back injuries and ruptured Achilles tendons from weekend warriors pushing their creaky bodies too hard.

Lesson: Limber up before playing, and know your limits. "Not everyone can play like Drew Brees," Cracroft cautioned.

One Thanksgiving morning a few years ago, a Rolando family was readying for the big feast. Everyone was working hard, hoping to complete their holiday chores before their company arrived.

The teenage son was supposed to mow the lawn, but the mower was out of gas. He opened a gallon can and began refueling. In the garage. Next to the dryer. Which operates on natural gas. Meaning an open flame.

"That ignited the fumes," noted Jeff Carle, San Diego's assistant fire chief for operations. "This startled him, so he kicked the gas can over, spilling a gallon of gas."

Firefighters defeated the flames before they reached the house, but the garage was badly damaged. Ditto, the teen's ego. He vanished and didn't reappear for a day.

"He thought he might have to live somewhere else for awhile," Carle said.

Lesson: Any object that uses fuels — from lawn mower to grill — should be set up and used outdoors, away from walls, overhangs and wooden decks.


Deep-fried turkeys are more common than ever. So are deep-fried-turkey-related house fires, which annually destroy 10 to 14 dwellings and scald thousands of Americans.

Last year, firefighter Jason Shanley responded to one of these fires in Valencia Park, Calif. The pot had been filled with too much oil; when the turkey was lowered into the boiling liquid, the fluid spilled onto the flames.

"This creates kind of a fireball," Shanley said. "Your Thanksgiving turns into Halloween."

The grill was in the backyard, so the house was safe. Not so the chef, who suffered moderate to severe burns on his arms, face and neck, plus mild to moderate burns on his legs.

Lesson: Before cooking, lower the turkey into a pot filled with water — you'll see how much oil you really need. Toss the water. When cooking, make sure your turkey is completely dry; dropping water into hot oil is a recipe for an explosion.

While the National Fire Protection Association reports that the risk of house fires doubles on Thanksgiving, that's not entirely due to fried turkeys. Because chefs are preparing so much food, it's easy to lose track of dishes — those pies, say, that are baking while everyone is tucking into the bird and trimmings.

Lesson: "Use timers," Carle advised. "Ones you can hear."


Hoping to enjoy a relaxing four-day Thanksgiving weekend? Don't become a plumber.

"This is the one holiday we know our technicians will be working," said Mary Jane Anderson, owner of Anderson Plumbing, Heating and Air. "And Friday is by far the biggest day of the year. It's nonstop."

Dana Parks, who works for rival Bill Howe Plumbing, blames kitchen-cleaning crews shoving everything down the disposal.

He's seen roast beef jammed down the disposal; mashed potatoes dispatched through the drain and turkey grease poured into the sink. All have a nasty habit of backing up, reappearing in your shower, toilet or bathroom sink.

"It acts like cholesterol," Parks said. "What happens is your kitchen drain is having a heart attack, and we have to come in and give your pipes a triple bypass."

Lesson: When in doubt, throw it out — in the garbage can.

 On Thanksgiving day, the risk of suffering a house fire doubles,
On Thanksgiving day, the risk of suffering a house fire doubles,

Peter Rowe writes for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

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