Life Safety and Fire Protection Requirements for Restaurants

Posted February 05, 2020 by Koorsen Fire & Security

modern commercial kitchen

For anyone starting a new restaurant, navigating the complex maze of fire protection regulations can seem like a daunting task. But don’t worry. Koorsen has you covered. In this post, we will provide an overview of the basic requirements that you need to be aware of along with the relevant codes in which they can be found.

To simplify this topic, we will group the requirements for restaurants into two main categories – life safety and fire protection. Life safety requirements apply to businesses of all kinds. While these requirements are not specific to restaurants, they do include several requirements that restaurant owners need to be aware of.

In contrast, but complementary to life safety requirements, there are additional fire protection regulations that are specific to restaurants and commercial kitchens. These requirements are intended to reduce the risk of fire breaking out, and if one does, to suppress it quickly to minimize its impact.

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Life Safety Requirements and How They Apply to Restaurants

Life safety requirements can be found in the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101 Life Safety Code. The main purpose of NFPA 101 is to provide the minimum requirements necessary to ensure a reasonable degree of safety for occupants of buildings and structures in the event of a fire.

Most of the code pertains to egress. However, recognizing that life safety is more than simply a matter of escape, NFPA 101 also includes requirements intended to provide additional time for occupants to get out and to minimize the danger for those exposed to fires and the smoke, heat, and toxic gases they produce.

The requirements that apply to your restaurant depend primarily on its occupancy load. The occupancy load is simply the total number of people – including employees and customers – that might occupy your restaurant at any given time. The occupancy load of your restaurant is determined by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). The occupancy load is calculated based on the size of your operation including all areas that customers might occupy as well as your kitchen.

If your restaurant has an occupancy load of 50 or more people, the occupancy requirements for an assembly will apply. Restaurants with an occupancy load of less than 50 people are classified as a mercantile and as such, are subject to generally less stringent requirements.

Means of Egress

While the Life Safety Code provides highly detailed requirements for means of egress that depend in large part on the construction and other features of the building and space your restaurant is located in, we will focus on the more fundamental requirements. Here is a summary of some of the basic requirements for ensuring your employees and patrons can safely exit the building in the event of a fire:

  • There must be at least two means of egress in every building.
  • The ability to escape through the kitchen, a storeroom, or restrooms is not considered a permitted means of egress.
  • Egress points must be arranged in such a way as to minimize the possibility that both might be rendered impassable by the same emergency condition.
  • They must remain unobstructed at all times and must be accessible to people with limited mobility (e.g. wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through).
  • Every exit must be clearly visible, or the route to reach every exit must be clearly marked.
  • Any device or alarm installed to restrict the improper use of a means of egress (e.g., a panic bar) must be installed in such a way to ensure that it cannot, even in case of failure, impede or prevent egress in an emergency.

Fire Protection Equipment

Chapter 9 of the Life Safety Code describes the type of fire protection equipment your restaurant must have. When it comes to getting people out of harm’s way, early warning is critical.

The Life Safety Code includes a general requirement that if your restaurant is arranged in such a way that a fire itself might not provide adequate warning to all occupants, a fire alarm system is required. And all restaurants with an occupancy of 300 or more are required to have them.

When required, fire alarms must include both an audible and visible alarm (e.g., strobing lights). And, the fire alarm signal must be transmitted to a location that is constantly attended while the building is occupied. This is most often accomplished by using a company that offers central monitoring station services.

All fire alarm systems must be installed and maintained in accordance with NFPA standards, including the NFPA 70 National Electrical Code and NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. The NFPA 72 requires both weekly and monthly visual inspections and functional testing of fire alarms at a frequency determined by your local jurisdiction. You can find more in-depth information on what these requirements entail here.

Requirements for other types of fire protection equipment, including sprinklers and portable fire extinguishers, will be addressed in the next section, where we will take a closer look at the fire protection requirements that apply specifically to the commercial kitchen.

Fire Protection Requirements for Your Commercial Kitchen

The NFPA recently issued a report showing that seven out of ten of the fires that occur in eating and drinking establishments stay relatively small and do not spread beyond their point of origin. This may seem encouraging; however, even small fires can cause big damage. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, a fire in a commercial kitchen will result in an average loss of $23,000. For smaller establishments, the odds are pretty good that a single fire could shut down the business permanently.

In an earlier post, we discussed some of the obvious and not-so-obvious risks in a commercial kitchen that make fire protection so important. Here, we’ll look at the requirements for the three main components of fire protection systems in the commercial kitchen – the kitchen fire suppression system, the ventilation system, and portable fire extinguishers.

Kitchen Fire Suppression Systems

The kitchen fire suppression system provides the foundation for fire safety in your restaurant because it is in the kitchen that the risk of fire is greatest. The NFPA 96 Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations requires automatic fire suppression equipment in all commercial kitchens. This equipment is required for all grease removal devices, hood exhaust plenums, exhaust duct systems, and any cooking equipment that produces grease-laden vapors.

Most restaurants today use wet chemical restaurant fire suppression systems, which offer the most effective fire suppression for commercial kitchens. Wet chemical fire suppression systems extinguish fires by spraying a chemical agent that reacts with the fats that are common to most kitchen fires in a process called saponification. The agent creates a layer of foam over the burning oil or fat, and reduces its supply of oxygen. These chemical agents also contain water, which simultaneously helps to cool the oils and fats to below their ignition point. Wet chemical fire suppression systems are connected to gas supply lines so that when activated, they interrupt the gas supply at the same time they are releasing the chemical agent.

The NFPA 17A Standard for Wet Chemical Extinguishing Systems requires all such systems to comply with the ANSI/UL 300 or other equivalent standards. ANSI/UL 300 requires that fire suppression nozzles must be installed in all hoods and ducts and above each piece of cooking equipment. Other requirements include a manual pull station located in the kitchen to activate the fire alarm and automatic shut-offs to the energy sources to all appliances, whether electrical or gas-fired. Your restaurant fire suppression system is also required to have semiannual maintenance by trained professionals. You can learn more about these and other requirements in our previous post here.

Ventilation Systems

Your kitchen’s ventilation system must meet the requirements found in NFPA 96, which provides the minimum requirements for ventilation systems in commercial kitchens.

Ventilation systems are designed to work with fire suppression systems. A hood and duct system is required above every piece of cooking equipment that can produce flammable, grease-laden vapors. In addition, a fire suppression system must be installed inside the hood.

The NFPA 96 provides the installation requirements for ventilation systems as well as requirements for their inspection and maintenance. However, these standards require 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.

Portable Fire Extinguishers

Portable fire extinguishers are required by both the NFPA 96 and NFPA 10 Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers. Fire extinguishers are classified based on the type of fires they are designed to extinguish.

Class K fire extinguishers are required in commercial kitchens because they are designed to put out fires involving grease, fats, and oils that burn at high temperatures. However, it’s also a good idea to keep a Class ABC extinguisher on hand for other types of fires (paper, wood, plastic, electrical, etc.). All fire extinguishers should be checked monthly and inspected and recertified annually.

It is important (and required by NFPA 96) that kitchen staff be trained on how to operate fire extinguishers. This is because, in a commercial kitchen equipped with an automatic fire suppression system, Class K fire extinguishers are intended to be used only after the activation of a kitchen suppression system.

Koorsen Can Help

Our goal with this post was to provide a good overview of some of the most important requirements for restaurants and commercial kitchens. We also wanted to point out to current and prospective restaurant owners the relevant codes that pertain to their operations. The codes are highly detailed. But, you don’t have to figure them out on your own.

If you have any questions about the requirements for your restaurant or if you need assistance with inspections and routine maintenance of your fire suppression system, contact Koorsen today. We can help you ensure compliance with all the rules and regulations that apply to your business and give you the peace of mind that goes with it.

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Topics: Kitchen Fire Suppression, Fire Alarm Systems, 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.