Fire Risks in Restaurant Kitchens and How to Put Them Out

Posted July 31, 2020 by Koorsen Fire & Security

Fire RIsks in Restaurant Kitchens and How to Put Them Out

The kitchen is the heart and soul of a restaurant. It’s where the unique foods and flavors that give the restaurant its character are dreamed up and created.

Yet, it is also the restaurant business’s greatest risk.

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The kitchen is nothing short of a giant fire hazard with all of its flammable liquids, high temperatures, plentiful paper products, electrical equipment, and motorized tools at risk of overheating. There are approximately over 8,000 restaurant fires annually, causing over $240 million in property damage every year, not to mention injuries and fatalities.

To protect your restaurant, employees, and customers from devastating restaurant fires, it is vital you understand the most common causes of restaurant fires and the best steps you can take towards fire protection in your commercial kitchen.

Common Causes of Restaurant Fires

Educating yourself and your employees on the most dangerous fire risks present in your restaurant will go a long way in helping to prevent a fire from starting and progressing.

Following are six of the most common causes of restaurant fires:

  1. Electrical: When new appliances are hooked up to outdated wiring, when a kitchen is overloaded with appliances past capacity, or when faulty switches, sockets, or plugs are installed, the dangers of sparks, overheating, fire and even explosion increase. Furthermore, faulty or frayed cords, no matter how new, will pose a risk of sparking and catching fire.
  2. Open Flames: Open flames pose the most obvious risk, but the reason may be less obvious. Seemingly benign items, such as kitchen towels, pot holders, loose articles of clothing, and long, dangling hair, can quickly catch fire and be the fuel necessary to spread the open flame to other parts of the kitchen, causing immediate physical harm and possibly spreading it elsewhere.

  3. Flammable Liquids: Any restaurant kitchen typically has plenty of flammable liquids like cooking oil, animal fats, grease, and alcohol. Besides being highly flammable, their liquidity allows liquid fires to spread and behave in exceptionally dangerous ways while also making them harder to put out – you cannot simply douse a liquid fire with water.

  4. Flammable Materials: An easily overlooked fire hazard in restaurant kitchens is all of the food packaging, wrapping, and boxes, as well as materials such as parchment paper and foil. When these items are not properly stored or disposed of, they become little more than kindling ready to be lit and are a common source of restaurant fires.

  5. Dirty equipment (oven hoods, grease traps): Grease is extremely flammable and nearly ubiquitous on your restaurant kitchen’s surfaces. It quickly spreads and builds up on cook-tops, in exhaust-hoods, in ducts, etc. making many surfaces in your kitchen the ideal fuel and pathway for fire to spread.

    Full grease traps are also a part of this problem. It is not difficult for articles of food or even paper to slip into a grease trap. These items can easily catch fire when more hot grease is added.  

  6. Gas Leaks: Some of the most devastating restaurant fires are caused by gas leaks. These explosive situations are often caused when equipment is not properly connected to a gas line, or when older or improperly maintained equipment can no longer support the gas flow. Gas escapes from these poor connections into the air which can then explode if ignited. A simple lighting of a match or even turning on electrical equipment can be enough to ignite the gas in the air and cause an explosion.

Putting Out Restaurant Fires

Restaurant kitchens are rife with fire hazards, and unfortunately, they are not always the simplest to put out.

In the event of a grease fire or a fire involving any flammable liquid, such as oil, alcohol, or animal fat, water cannot be used to put the fire out. Water will only spread the fire and make it worse.

Electrical fires – another of the most common causes of restaurant fires – also cannot be extinguished by water as it would risk electrocution and further spread of the fire.

Ultimately, the best methods of fighting restaurant fires are through uniquely designed kitchen fire suppression systems, prevention, and educated employees.

Fire Protection Every Restaurant Kitchen Needs

Fire protection has come a long way, especially in the design of fire suppressants specifically designed for grease and oil-based fires. These suppressants are used in hood suppression systems and special classes of fire extinguishers designed for the unique hazards of a kitchen.

  • Hood Suppression Systems: Kitchen hood suppression systems allow for a fast response to kitchen fires that can put the threat out before it spreads without putting the kitchen out of commission.

    Most of these restaurant fire suppression systems are installed in the hoods over grills, fryers, and ranges (thus why they are often referred to as hood suppression systems).

    When the system is triggered by a fire (temperatures that rise above typical cooking temperatures), nozzles installed above the kitchen appliance will then discharge a special wet chemical that will starve the fire of oxygen. These systems also cut off the gas line to the appliance as soon as it is triggered, preventing additional fuel from feeding the fire.

    This fast-acting, automatic system that both shuts off the gas and extinguishes the fire will stop fires practically before they even get started, allowing the restaurant to carry on with minimal interference. Manual activation levers are also installed in the kitchen so that employees can trigger the system if they become aware of a fire danger before the system automatically triggers.

    You will want to consult Koorsen Fire & Security to be sure that you get the best suppression system for your cooking materials. If your restaurant uses vegetable oil rather than animal-fat for cooking, the temperatures run much higher and will require a different type of chemical suppression that is more effective on those higher temps.

  • Proper Fire Extinguishers: When you have properly trained your employees on how and when to use them, portable fire extinguishers can allow an employee to extinguish a small fire before it becomes a problem.

    Extinguishers are ideal for when the fire is not located on an active cooking surface where gas is actively fueling the fire, but when a fire originates from another source – such as a spark landing on nearby supplies – and simply needs to be extinguished quickly.

    Extinguishers can also be used to aid the hood suppression system after it activates, but only if the employee can safely do so, and only after the system has been activated and the fire department has been called. A Class K fire extinguisher uses a liquid to extinguish the fire, which is why it is important to ensure the cooking equipment power has been cut due to the potential shock hazard.

    However, because of the oils, greases, and fats at play, you need to make sure you have the correct extinguisher for your staff to use. A Class K fire extinguisher uses a fire suppressant that can suffocate a fire, even if it involves grease or oil, without inadvertently spreading it. If there is any chance that grease or oil is involved, a Class K extinguisher should be used.

  • Routine Maintenance: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is certainly accurate here. Maintenance and daily cleaning of all kitchen equipment, such as ovens, gas mains, grills, fryers, broilers, hoods, vents, etc., is an absolute must and will go a long way to prevent fires in the first place.

    Be sure also to inspect electric cords regularly and remove any that are frayed or damaged to help prevent an electrical short from starting a fire.

    You also need to do your monthly checks and annual maintenance on your hoods and fire suppression systems, since those protective systems won’t do much good if they are not working properly.

    While the costs of properly cleaning and maintaining your equipment can add up, they are far less than the cost of a fire that can put your restaurant out of commission and result in injuries and even fatalities.

  • Knowledgeable/Prepared Staff: Finally, there is perhaps no better way to prevent a restaurant fire from causing damage and harm than educating your staff. After all, they are your eyes and hands on the ground at all times, and the ones who will need to identify hazards and take care of them, as well as the ones to utilize the suppression systems in the event of a fire.

    • First, ensure that they know what the cleaning and maintenance responsibilities are and how to perform them, and make sure they understand why it is so important to keep the kitchen’s appliances, cooking surfaces, and work areas clean.
      If your employees realize that their safety and job security are significantly strengthened through these processes, they will be more willing to do their part.

    • Second, they need to know that they should never use water to douse a grease, oil, or electrical fire, as this will only spread the fire and hazard, and that they should only use the correct fire extinguisher for the kitchen (Class K).

      Make sure that every employee knows where the fire extinguisher is and how to use it. OSHA requires such training if you expect employees to use provided extinguishers.

      Fire protection companies, like Koorsen Fire & Security, offer fire extinguisher training that will help your team understand the importance of using the correct fire extinguisher and become comfortable and ready to use one in an emergency.

    • Third, teach your employees the basics behind how the hood suppression system works and where the manual activation switch is in case it does not activate automatically.

    • Fourth, train your staff on properly storing flammable items (like paper products, boxes, packaging, aprons, aerosol cans, used grease, and other cooking materials) away from open flames, hot appliances, and cooking liquids.

    • Finally, create an action plan in the event of a fire, assigning roles for the team members to ensure that someone on each shift is responsible for calling 911, using the extinguisher or activating the hood suppression system, and evacuating the restaurant (if necessary). Train all new employees on this action plan, and review it with your whole team at least once a year.

      Your most significant fire prevention and suppression resource is your own team – make sure they are regularly trained on the above, and you will go a long way in ensuring that your restaurant is never taken out by a fire and that no one sustains injuries.

Need Help Protecting Your Restaurant?

Whether you already have a hood suppression system or need help choosing and installing fire protection elements in your restaurant, or if you simply want to provide your employees with better training, the expertly trained team at Koorsen Fire & Security can help you out.

Call Koorsen today with your questions or to make an appointment.

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Topics: Kitchen Fire Suppression, Commercial Kitchen, Restaurant Industry, Restaurant

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Disclaimer: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is believed to be reliable, but Koorsen Fire & Security assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this article. It does not constitute professional advice. The user of this article or the product(s) is responsible for verifying the information's accuracy from all available sources, including the product manufacturer. The authority having jurisdiction should be contacted for code interpretations.