According to the most recent report from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) on Structure Fires in Eating and Drinking Establishments, between 2010-2014, more than 7,400 fires occurred in restaurants and bars each year. And, every year, these fires, on average, claimed three lives, injured more than 100 people, and caused $165 million in property damage.
Of the fires studied by the NFPA, more than 59 percent started in the kitchen – a fact that underscores how important understanding and implementing best practices for fire safety really is. This post describes several fire safety best practices in three primary areas – preventative maintenance, good housekeeping, and employee training – which together, can help significantly reduce the risk of fire in your kitchen.
Best Practices for Preventative Maintenance
Approximately 26 percent of the fires studied in the NFPA report were the result of electrical or mechanical failures; or the malfunction of kitchen equipment and appliances. Clearly, preventative maintenance plays an important role in kitchen fire prevention. Below, we describe the best practices for fire safety related to preventative maintenance in two key areas – the appliances and exhaust systems in your kitchen, and the fire suppression systems and equipment.
Maintaining Kitchen Appliances and Exhaust Systems
- All electrical equipment should be inspected and maintained on a regular basis. Inspections should include looking for hazards such as frayed cords or wiring, which are more likely to spark and cause an electrical fire. It is also important to check for cracked or broken switch plates on outlets, as these can expose wires and collect dust and grease, which can lead to a short circuit and fire. Any cords running behind appliances should be checked, too, or moved to a place where they are more visible. If problems are identified, stop using the equipment or appliance until it can be repaired or replaced.
- Have damaged or malfunctioning appliances repaired by a professional. With the built-in complexity of today’s commercial kitchen appliances, it is always a good idea to have them maintained and repaired by a trained professional. Never attempt to repair broken appliances and electrical equipment yourself.
- Keep your deep fat fryers away from open flame cooking equipment. According to the NFPA report, deep fryers were involved in one out of every five of the fires studied. It is important to keep your fryers at least 16 inches away from any source of open flame or to install a vertical divider that extends at least 8 inches above the top of the fryer. Either option will help to ensure that hot oils in the fryer don’t splash onto an open flame and ignite. All deep fat fryers should also be equipped with a high temperature-limiting device that will automatically shut off the fuel or power to the fryer if the oil exceeds 475 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Have your kitchen’s exhaust system regularly inspected and cleaned to prevent grease build-up. This is not only a best practice – it is required by fire safety codes. The NFPA 96, Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations requires different inspections and cleaning schedules for exhaust systems – monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or annually – based on the type of cooking operation you have. If you’re not sure what your schedule is, you can contact Koorsen to ask an expert.
Maintaining Kitchen Fire Suppression Systems and Equipment
Best practices for fire safety where commercial kitchens are concerned means staying in compliance with all fire safety regulations regarding the inspection, testing and maintenance of your kitchen fire suppression system. It is also important to stay on top of the regulations relevant to your fire alarms and emergency lighting.
- Keep portable fire extinguishers as a backup. Portable fire extinguishers are required in both the NFPA 96 and the NFPA 10 Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers. While Class K fire extinguishers are required in commercial kitchens for fires involving grease, fats and oils that burn at high temperatures, it’s also a good idea to keep Class ABC extinguishers on hand for other types of fires (paper, wood, plastic, electrical, etc.). All fire extinguishers should be checked monthly and inspected and recertified annually.
- Inspect and test your kitchen fire suppression system. Kitchen suppression systems are generally very effective at extinguishing fires. However, they can still fail due to a lack of maintenance. This is why it is critical to have them inspected and tested on a regular basis. These requirements can be found in the NFPA 17A Standard for Wet Chemical Extinguishing Systems. You can learn more about them here.
- Conduct regular inspections and testing of your fire alarms. When fire breaks out, fire alarms can quickly notify occupants giving them more time to escape, and first responders, which can help to minimize fire damages. In order to ensure they will work when you need them, the NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code requires both weekly and monthly visual inspections and functional testing of fire alarms at a frequency determined by your local jurisdiction. Koorsen offers more in-depth information on what these requirements entail here.
- Test emergency and exit lighting. In the event of a fire emergency, electrical power may be lost, which is why you need to regularly test your emergency and exit lighting. Properly functioning emergency lighting is essential to ensure your occupants can find their way to safety if the power goes out during an emergency. The NFPA 101 Life Safety Code requires monthly inspections and annual testing of all emergency and exit lighting systems.
Best Practices for Good Housekeeping
Cleanliness and good housekeeping can significantly reduce the risk of fires in commercial kitchens. This fact is evident in the NFPA data, which showed that 22 percent of the fires that occur each year in commercial kitchens were a result of a failure to clean.
- Clean your kitchen regularly. This is one of the simplest but most important best practices you can implement in your kitchen. Built up grease can be ignited with a single spark and is a fire hazard that can be prevented with good housekeeping. Staff should regularly clean to remove the grease on walls, work surfaces, ranges, fryers, broilers, grills and convection ovens, and all vents and filters. Grease traps must also be cleaned regularly to prevent them from overflowing and reduce the risk of fire. Use checklists to ensure daily, weekly, and monthly cleaning activities are completed.
For additional best practices related to good housekeeping and to help remind your employees how they can help prevent fires, print and post our infographic, Koorsen’s 10 Tips to Keep Your Kitchen Safe and Up to Code in your kitchen.
Make Staff Training a Priority
Depending on how much fire safety and prevention training you provide, your employees can either increase your risk of fire or be one of your best lines of defense in preventing it. In addition, if a fire does breaks out in your restaurant, it will be your staff that must quickly take control of the situation and lead your customers to safety. Their success will depend in large part on the training they have received – investing in your employees could not only reduce your risk of fire, but also save lives should one ever break out in your kitchen.
- Make sure your staff has proper equipment and training in any cooking techniques that involve the use of open flames. Methods that use alcohol and propane are particularly hazardous when used near dining tables, where mistakes could result in the ignition of tablecloths, napkins, and possibly the clothing of servers and customers.
- All equipment and appliances should be used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Two percent of the fires studied in the NFPA report were caused by equipment that was not operated properly.
- Teach employees how to quickly extinguish grease fires on cooktops and grills. Data from the U.S. Fire Administration shows that most fires (almost 70%) are able to be contained and do not spread beyond the object of their origin, such as a grill or cooktop. Teaching your employees how to quickly deal with small fires can greatly reduce the risk of those fires getting out of control. It is also important that they understand that grabbing the closest fire extinguisher isn’t always the right response to a grease fire. Often, small grease fires can be extinguished by covering the flames with a metal lid and turning off the heat source.
- Make sure every employee knows how to properly use fire extinguishers. The NFPA 96 requires kitchen staff to be trained on how to operate fire extinguishers and fire suppression systems. They should also know that Class K fire extinguishers are only intended to be used after the activation of a kitchen suppression system.
- Prepare your workers to be ready to power down quickly. All workers should be trained in how to shut off the gas and/or the electrical power in case of emergency, and every shift should have at least one worker assigned to this duty. If your kitchen uses gas appliances, it is important to know if the shut-off valve is designed to activate automatically or if it must be manually operated.
- Provide and mandate emergency training. Teach new employees about evacuation procedures, and provide refreshers to all staff members at least annually. Every employee should know where the closest exits are from any location in the restaurant. Then, back up the training you provide with regular fire drills.
Have a Fire Safety Plan in Place
Even if you implement every one of the best practices described here, your commercial kitchen should still have an evacuation plan – one that is easy to read and understand, and posted at every egress point. Every shift should have a staff member designated to be the evacuation manager, who in the event of an emergency, will be in charge of calling 911 and ensuring that everyone exits the building safely.
Koorsen can help you develop a comprehensive, customized fire safety and emergency evacuation plan for your restaurant, equipped with all the necessary emergency products and services. We can also provide customized training for your employees so they understand and know how to use your kitchen’s fire suppression system and equipment.
Contact a Koorsen representative today to learn more.