Protecting Restaurants from Fire 

Restaurant fires typically start in cooking areas. Most fires are normally stopped before they have a chance to spread beyond the point of origin. Restaurants who have dedicated fire extinguishing systems, portable fire extinguishers and other safety equipment are more likely to confine fires and limit damage.

How a fire system works…The system operates automatically. A fire involving a cooking appliance will trigger a releasing mechanism (link) and the system will discharge chemicals to extinguish the fire. The fire system also automatically shuts off heat sources to the appliances. Once the system operates, an interlock will help prevent rekindling of the fire. The system can also be discharged manually at a pull station. Typically, they are all marked with the word “PULL”, and they have a placard indicating which appliances are covered. It’s a good idea to have a metal guard installed around each pull station. The guards prevent accidental trips of the system. Most systems already have the guards installed but check to make sure you have them as accidental discharges can be costly. The chemical supplied in these systems work on cooking oil fires. The liquid chemical spray creates foam, which smothers the fire. Left undisturbed, the foam will keep the fire out and allow the appliances to cool until there is no possibility of re-flash. If a fire occurs, make sure employees don’t disturb the foam until the fire department determines it’s safe to resume cooking operations.

Fire System Checks: To help make sure the system is going to work, here are the things the owner and staff should check: • Each manual pull station is clearly identified for the protected appliance(s) • Nothing has changed (no new appliances or relocated appliances) • Protective caps on piping nozzles are not missing (missing caps allow grease to clog nozzles) Make sure the employees and owner know to pull the manual release whenever an appliance fire occurs and to call you if nozzle caps are ever missing. Also, make sure the owner knows to schedule regular servicing of the system every six months including replacement of the system links, which are critical for the system to work automatically. If a system tag ever shows a date older than 6-months, the system is overdue for link replacement and maintenance and the owner needs to contact the fire equipment company.

Lights for the Appliance Hood: Light fixtures in kitchen hoods are designed for safety. These fixtures have special globes and often have metal guards installed to protect them from damage. The globes may be tempered glass or come with a shatterproof plastic coating. The globes intended for this application will not discolor with heat. If a globe or guard is missing, the fire equipment company carries replacements.

Signs for the Exhaust Fan: The kitchen exhaust fan must be operated whenever cooking appliances are in use. The fan is connected to the hood and duct exhaust system and keeps cooking odors from migrating to the dining area. From a safety standpoint, the system captures, contains, and removes combustible grease vapors. To help ensure the fans are turned on each time appliances are used, a sign is required to be posted.

Fire Extinguishers for the Kitchen: Specially designed fire extinguishers have been developed and the chemical in those extinguishers match the chemical in the fire system.

Here are the things owners and staff should check with those extinguishers:

Fire extinguishers rated “Class K” are installed for the protection of cooking appliances • At least one Class K extinguisher is within 30 ft of cooking appliances and is easily reachable • Placards are installed that say discharge the system before using a fire extinguisher

Fire Extinguishers for Solid Fuel Cooking Appliances that use charcoal, mesquite, or similar fuels are called solid fuel cooking appliances. Those appliances are required to have either water extinguishers or Class K extinguishers. Either type of extinguisher will effectively handle a fire involving a solid fuel appliance.

Fire Extinguishers for the Dining Area: Additional fire extinguishers are provided for the protection of both the building structure and the safety of patrons. In the dining areas of restaurants, the combustibles are furniture, paper, and fabrics, which are called common combustible materials. Typically, ABC dry chemical extinguishers are strategically placed so the travel to an extinguisher is within 75 ft from any point, including traveling around fixed objects. The fire equipment company has the knowledge to determine the right size, number, and strategic locations of extinguishers for the dining areas.

Annual Fire Extinguisher Maintenance: Fire extinguisher maintenance is required on an annual basis by trained technicians permitted to service the extinguishers. Extinguisher technicians follow the manufacturer’s service manuals and comply with the regulations of the NFPA. They not only perform the annual maintenance, but they know when to perform necessary recharging and hydrostatic testing of the cylinders. The service tags are easy to read. If the tag shows that the 12-month service is due, it’s time to contact the fire equipment company, but typically that’s not necessary since they perform these regular service calls as routine.

The owner of a restaurant has an obligation for the care and use of safety equipment. To fulfill this obligation, the owner should schedule regular inspections of safety equipment and offer training to restaurant employees in the operation of the fire system and correct use of portable fire extinguishers. Every employee needs to know how to call the fire department and do so for every fire, no matter how small. Restaurant employees also need to know how the fire system and other safety equipment work before a fire occurs. In order to make sure the equipment will work when it’s needed, they will need to make sure regular inspections and maintenance are performed by the fire equipment company. Only then will the restaurant be ready for a fire emergency. Following this guidance will help ensure the safety of all employees and patrons. Additionally, they can expect a quick return to business operations and revenue generation should a fire emergency occur.