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    Protecting Restaurants from Fire, Advice for Restaurant Owners

    By Mark Conroy



    As Fire Equipment Distributors, you know that restaurant fire safety equip¬ment is installed for employee/patron safety and to prevent catastrophic dam¬age. And that the care and use of the safety equipment is the responsibility of the restaurant owner. However, the owner of a restaurant needs to know that it is extremely important to understand how the equipment works and that sched¬uling regular inspections and maintenance helps ensure the equipment is func¬tional and will perform when needed during a fire emergency. The following information will assist you to educate restaurant owners and their employees.

    Location is Critical
    The need to provide safety equipment for possible fires in restaurants is based on the actual fire problem and statistics. The latest statisti¬cal information was developed from data collected from 2007 to 2009 in the U.S. Fire Administration’s (USFA’s) National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS)1. Here are some highlights of those statistics:

    • An estimated 5,900 restaurant building fires occur annually in the United States
    • These fires result in an estimated 75 injuries and $172 million in property loss
    • The leading cause of all restaurant building fires is cooking
    • Commercial fryers and ranges are the leading appliances involved in those fires
    • Nearly all of those cooking fires (91%) are small, confined fires with limited damage

    These statistics show a large number of fires in restaurant cooking areas. They also show the fires are normally stopped before they have a chance to spread beyond the point of origin. A major contributing factor of confin¬ing fires and limiting damage is likely that restaurants have dedicated fire extinguishing systems, portable fire extinguishers, and other safety equip¬ment. Here are some topics to discuss with restaurant owners to help ensure safety equipment will be available and in working order when it’s needed during a fire emergency.

    Fire System, How It Works
    The system operates automatically. A fire involving a cooking appliance will trigger a releasing mechanism (link) and the system will discharge chemical 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 indi¬cating 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 dis-charges can be costly.

    The chemical supplied in these sys¬tems work on cooking oil fires. The liq¬uid chemical spray creates foam, which smothers the fire. Left undisturbed, the foam will keep the fire out and al¬low the appliances to cool until there is no possibility of re-flash. If a fire oc¬curs, make sure employees don’t dis-turb 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 dam¬age. The globes may be tem¬pered 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 appli¬ances are in use. The fan is connected to the hood and duct exhaust system and keeps cooking odors from migrat¬ing to the dining area. From a safety standpoint, the system captures, con¬tains, 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 chemi¬cal 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 extin¬guisher is within 30 ft of cooking appliances and is easily reachable
    • Placards are installed that say discharge the system before us¬ing a fire extinguisher

    Fire Extinguishers for Solid Fuel Cooking
    Appliances that use charcoal, mes¬quite, or similar fuels are called solid fuel cooking appliances. Those appli¬ances are required to have either water extinguishers or Class K extinguishers. Either type of extinguisher will effec¬tively 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 restau¬rants, the combustibles are furniture, paper, and fabrics, which are called common combustible materials. Typi¬cally, 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 com¬pany has the knowledge to determine the right size, number, and strate¬gic locations of extinguishers for the dining areas.

    Annual Fire Extinguisher Maintenance
    Fire extinguisher maintenance is re¬quired on an annual basis by trained technicians permitted to service the extinguishers. Extinguisher techni¬cians follow the manufacturer’s service manuals and comply with the regula¬tions of the NFPA. They not only per¬form the annual maintenance, but they know when to perform necessary re¬charging 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 ob¬ligation for the care and use of safety equipment. To fulfill this obligation, the owner should give attention to regular inspections of the safety equip¬ment 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 knowledge of how the fire system and other safety equip¬ment 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 mainte¬nance are performed by the fire equip¬ment company. Only then will the res¬taurant be ready for a fire emergency. Following this guidance will help en¬sure 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.

    References: 1. United States Fire Administration (USFA), Topical Fire Report Series, Volume 12, Issue 1, April 2011, Restaurant Building Fires, https:// www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/statistics/ v12i1.pdf


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