• Volume 18, Issue 2 | 2nd Quarter

    Feature Article

    NFPA Now Requires Fire Safety Instructions for Restaurant Employees

    By Mark Conroy


    New requirements for employee instructions on extinguishers and suppression systems were recently added to the 2017 edition of NFPA 96, Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations, which will help ensure the best outcome. Since fire equipment distributors are the most knowledgeable about extinguishers and kitchen fire protection systems, they are likely the most qualified to provide direction for compliance with this new directive. Here is what you need to know regarding the need to provide instructions to restaurant staff and improve their knowledge about fire safety.

    Potential for Fires in Restaurants

    Restaurant cooking areas are unique fire hazards. There are many things that are easily ignited, including combustible materials and flammable liquids (cooking oils) that are used as media for cooking. There are also unique ignition sources, including the use of open flames in the cooking process. Additionally, cooking oils can easily ignite when heated to high temperatures for cooking. Excessive overheating of those oils will cause them to auto-ignite (ignition without spark or flame). Overheating occurs when an appliance malfunctions (thermostat fails) or an employee accidentally allows overheating.

    Importance of Information Prior to Fire Emergency

    With the combination of easily ignitable materials and readily present ignition sources, there is a potential for disaster, unless the fire protection features required by NFPA 96 are installed and kitchen staff know how and when to use them. The operation of fire extinguishers is fairly intuitive, and there are placards that say when to use them. Also the manual operation of kitchen systems is described at each pull station. But restaurant employees are normally focused on their tasks and the work in commercial kitchens is usually fast paced. The best time to prepare for a fire emergency is before it happens. Therefore, it is best if restaurant management periodically take a few moments with employees explaining fire safety, proper operation and sequence of the operation of fire equipment, notification of the fire department, and evacuation of the property.

    Sequence of Use of Fire Equipment

    The cooking areas of restaurants and cafeterias are required by NFPA 96 to have both an automatic fire extinguishing system and portable fire extinguishers. When restaurants are in full compliance with this national consensus standard, they have the best chance of a positive outcome when a fire breaks out, when compared to almost any other property. But unlike other properties, the extinguishing equipment must be operated or used in a certain sequence. Unlike most situations where the extinguisher is used as a first line of defense, Class K extinguishers should not be used on a protected appliance fire until after its fire suppression system has been discharged, either automatically or manually. A placard is required to be installed in a conspicuous location and near each Class K extinguisher that states the fire protection system is to be activated prior to using the fire extinguisher [96: 10.2.2].

    Shutting Off Heat Sources

    The suppression system installed in most restaurants for the protection of cooking appliances is a pre-engineered wet chemical system. There might also be a fire sprinkler system for the protection of the entire building, but the wet chemical system is specifically designed and installed for the cooking area (including appliances, hoods, and ducts). When that kitchen system operates, there is an interlock that automatically shuts off the heat sources (both gas and electrical) to the cooking appliances. That is critical to help cooking oil in fryers, griddles, and cooktop stoves cool below its re-ignition temperature.

    How the Fire Extinguishing Agent Works

    The wet chemical extinguishing agent that is used in kitchen systems is discharged as a fine mist spray. When it lands on the surface of a cooking oil fire, it chemically reacts with the fats in the oil to form a type of soap (saponification). A thick foam blanket is created by the reaction. That foam covers the oil surface and excludes oxygen in the air from contacting the oil vapors. It effectively suffocates the fire and prevents re-ignition, as long as the foam remains undisturbed on the surface of the oil.

    Employee Instructions

    Employees of restaurants are required to be provided with instructions on the use of portable fire extinguishers and how to manually operate the fire extinguishing system. The instructions are to be provided upon original hiring and at least annually thereafter [96: 11.1.4].

    What to do in the Event of a Fire Emergency

    The kitchen staff at the restaurant needs to receive instructions and understand what to do when an appliance fire occurs. Included in the instructions to employees should be the following:

    Operation of a pull station (manual actuation) will cause extinguishing agent discharge onto the appliances to extinguish the fire. This action automatically shuts off the heat sources to the appliances and helps reduce the chance of re-ignition.

    Whenever an appliance fire occurs, employees should call the fire department. An employee calling the fire department should provide their name, the address of the restaurant, and the name of manager on duty that can assist with providing information at the fire scene.

    When a kitchen fire occurs, the restaurant must be evacuated, including employees and restaurant patrons.

    If the fire is safely contained in one area, an employee can stand by with a Class K fire extinguisher, in case the fire is not fully extinguished by the kitchen system.

    Responsibility for Providing Instructions to Employees

    It is the responsibility of management of the restaurant that fire safety instructions are provided to employees [96:]. Records of employee fire safety instructions are required to be kept by management and be made available to the authority having jurisdiction, upon request [96:].

    Posting of Instructions for Manually Operating System

    Instructions for manually operating the kitchen system are also required to be posted conspicuously in the kitchen. Restaurant management is required to periodically review those instructions with employees [96:].


    The outcome of a restaurant fire often relies heavily on the actions of the employees. For a positive outcome, it is critically important that restaurant employees react correctly when a restaurant fire occurs. Knowing what to do in the first seconds of a fire event will save lives and reduce losses. Not being informed of proper response actions can be devastating, possibly resulting in total loss of property, injuries, and fatalities. It is the responsibility of restaurant management to ensure that certain fire safety instructions are provided to employees upon initial hiring and then periodically thereafter. Providing those instructions will help ensure the highest level of safety is established and maintained in commercial cooking areas.

    Mark Conroy is an engineer in our Boston office and a member of the NFPA Technical Committee on Venting Systems for Cooking Appliances.

    Employee Spotlight

    Meet Ansley Anderson

    Alarms Account Specialist

    Hired in the middle of winter (January, 2017), Ansley was living in Charlotte and commuting to two different jobs in Cherryville, NC—a 96-mile commute every day! Finding out from a friend at BHC that Brooks was hiring, Ansley got all her ducks in a row, applied for the position, and landed a job as an Alarm Account Specialist. Oh, and it’s about 40 miles closer!

    The position was a natural fit too. Ansley brought 15 years of customer service experience along with her to Brooks. And being detail oriented, there’s very little that gets by her in her job, which is a huge plus for both Brooks and her customers. As a member of the Fire Alarm Team, being attentive to what customers need is paramount to their success at what they do protecting lives and property. “I listen to their needs, strive for stellar customer service, offer sales when applicable, and research questions for those whom I serve,” says Ansley.

    Asked what her favorite thing is about working for Brooks, and she’ll tell you it’s hands down the people she works with. “The management team is awesome! They understand work is important but that family is a priority. They also take pride in your success and remain positive when you make a mistake.” She’ll go on to tell you that her co-workers are “the cream of the crop” as well. To Ansley, Brooks is just one big happy “work family” who keeps her motivated.

    Outside of the office, Ansley has 6 grown children as well as 3 grandchildren—Addy, 10; Loftin, 5½; and Brayden, 1. She and her husband attend church regularly and hope to see John MacArthur (in person) at his church in California some day. Ansley also spends time with her 88-year-old father when she’s not taking pictures, scrapbooking, or reading the Bible. “I try to give Abba/Father my gratitude on a daily basis—thankful for this job, my health, family, childhood, friends, co-workers, life itself, and God’s merciful goodness,” says Ansley.

    Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in these articles are the author’s only and provide limited information. Although the information is believed to be reliable, Brooks Equipment Company, LLC expressly disclaims any liability for errors or omissions. The user of this article(s) 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.