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    Restaurant Fire? Dump the System!

    By Mark Conroy

    The best advice for a cooking oil fire in a commercial cooking appliance is to manually discharge the system. That’s right, don’t ask questions and don’t hesitate for a second, dump the system.

    Sounds like strong advice, but it’s always the right thing to do. If an employee of a restaurant or any commercial cooking establishment sees fire on the surface of a fryer, it means that the cooking oil has overheated and spontaneously ignited. There’s immediate danger to the employees and patrons. The overheated oil will continue to burn until the fire extinguishing system automatically discharges. The system has the best chance of putting out the fire at the earliest stage possible. So don’t wait. Pull the manual release for the fire extinguishing system and dump the system.

    What to Do Next

    What to do next? Get everyone out of the building and get on the phone to the fire department. When you dial 911, be prepared to say “I want to report a fire”. Then give the business name and address including street, town and state. Stay on the line and calmly answer all the questions that are asked. The person that you will talk to is a dispatcher who will relay all important information to the fire truck on the way.

    What Happens When and Why

    An appliance catches fire because of a malfunction or employee error. Some fires occur because employees forget to turn off the heat source to the appliance when they’re draining it to change out or clean the oil. But typically the thermostat malfunctions and causes the oil to overheat. Prior to the fire, you’ll notice excessive smoke coming from the oil. This is an indication that the oil is overheating. If it’s allowed to continue to heat up, the oil will suddenly burst into flames. At first the flames will appear small, but they will grow quickly and spread into the hood and ductwork.

    When flames first appear, reach over and pull the manual release for the fire extinguishing system. If the building has an alarm, it will sound and this will tell people to get out. Pulling the release triggers the fire extinguishing system to release chemical onto the burning appliance. The chemical will come out of the nozzles at the end of the pipes over the appliance. Unlike the obsolete systems that discharged a white powder, the newer systems discharge a wet chemical that looks like a fine mist spray. The flames will quickly disappear and the chemical reacting with the oil will create a thick blanket of foam. This foam smothers the fire and prevents re-ignition.

    The fire extinguishing system also has an interlock to shut off the heat source to the appliance. This important feature shuts a gas valve or turns off the electricity to an electrical appliance and allows the oil to begin to cool naturally while the foam blanket is in place. Remember that the oil is overheated and the foam must stay in place for a very long time or the oil will spontaneously re-ignite. Therefore, don’t touch anything until the fire department says things are okay. Firefighters have special training and will only leave the scene when things are safe and fire will not likely reoccur.

    Once the fire department has determined the area is safe, it’s time to call the fire equipment service company and begin cleanup. The company phone number will be on a tag or label near the wet chemical tank. The service technician will recharge the tank, reset the trigger and make sure the system is ready in the event of another fire emergency. The technician will also make sure that gas service or electricity is returned to the appliance.

    Knowing what to do prior to a fire emergency can be critical once a fire starts. If you see flames on the surface of cooking oil in an appliance, don’t hesitate, don’t ask questions – dump the system. Following this advice can save lives and property.

    Mark Conroy is an engineer in the Boston office of Brooks Equipment Company. (Article is not copyrighted and can be reproduced and/or posted without permission.)

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