2010 November: Fire in the Hole!

2010 November: Fire in the Hole!It is hard to imagine that your dream, your business, can go up in smoke. But fires are a real and daily threat to operators. Ovens, stove tops, grease traps and a variety of other items can literally burn the house down. When equipment like exhaust fans, hoods and ventilation systems fail, fires happen.

In order to keep your dream, business, employees and customers safe, operators have to be aware of dangers in the kitchen, adhere to local fire codes and practice fire safety — because it only takes a moment to lose everything.

Rob Raia, owner of Colorado Springs-based Borriello Brothers, knows the devastation a fire can cause. In August, a fire broke out in the restaurant due to what appears to be a failed exhaust fan, causing critical damage to the roof.

“The smoke damage was extensive,” Raia said. “The fire started in between the drop ceiling and the roof itself. The whole roof was damaged extensively.” According to Raia, the fire started around 6 p.m. when the restaurant was just starting to get crowded, and the staff was gearing up for the evening.

“The managers took over and got everybody out real quick,” Raia said. “They did what they were supposed to do.”

According to Raia, the roof and ceiling have to be gutted. Although repairs have not started, he is hoping to reopen in three months.

“We do have a contract with a company to clean our hoods every six months,” Raia said. “We do what we’re supposed to do.”

Since fi res can happen anytime and anywhere, even when operators are practicing fi re safety, how can operators protect their businesses better?

Matt Klaus, senior fi re protection engineer with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), says the document NFPA 96, The Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations, is a great source on fire codes and fire prevention.

“This document provides the requirements for the design and installation of a fire safe cooking area within a commercial cooking environment,” said Klaus. “There are two main types of systems that are found in commercial cooking areas, an exhaust system and a fire suppression system. The ducted exhaust system is required for all ‘cooking equipment used in processes producing smoke or grease laden vapor’ (NFPA 96 Section 4.1.1 2011 Edition).”
To investigate local fire codes, Scott Dawkins, director of business operations for kitchen exhaust cleaning specialists HOODZ, advises operators to contact their local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) to ensure the restaurant system is being properly inspected and maintained.

“Grease in an exhaust system is a potential fire hazard. In most municipalities, the AHJ is the fire marshal,” Dawkins said. “The AHJ will inform the restaurant owner of the local codes they have adopted in their area. The NFPA 96 outlines the minimal inspection frequency.”

Dawkins says exhaust cleaning companies are contracted by restaurant owners to regularly clean and inspect their systems. The volume of grease vapors the cooking equipment produces determines the maintenance schedule (which can be monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually).

“Hire qualified companies to help keep their investment fire safe. Always inspect the company’s work that is performing the exhaust cleaning and ask them for pictures of the cleaned system,” Dawkins said.

Upon reopening, Raia plans to implement a logbook of maintenance to record what equipment was serviced, when and by whom, and keep warranties accessible.

Dawkins, meanwhile, says operators need to know how the design of their kitchen and location of the equipment can increase or decrease fire risk.

“The restaurant owner will want to ensure they are following the local codes when designing or changing the layout of the kitchen to ensure the proper exhaust system is in place over the various cooking appliances,” Dawkins says. “Ensure all cooking equipment is functioning appropriately and the kitchen staff is properly trained on the necessary precautions.”

Klaus says grease fires are exceptionally challenging because they can provide a suppression challenge; a wet sprinkler will be ineffective and may even cause the fire to spread. “The general concern of the fi re marshals, building officials or responding personnel is that the appropriate systems have been put in place for the hazards present. This can be accomplished by providing the equipment as outlined in NFPA 96,” Klaus says. “Once the system has been properly designed and installed, maintaining and cleaning the system becomes the ongoing battle for the owner and fire department. The build-up of grease within the system can be the source of the fire or contribute to the development of a fire if it is permitted to ignite. Proper cleaning and inspection in accordance with Chapter 11 of NFPA 96 is one way to limit the exposure of a property to grease fires.”

Operators not only need to educate themselves on fire codes and fire safety, but they must also educate their staff.

According to OSHA’s Fire Safety in the Workplace Fact Sheet, “Employers should train workers about fire hazards in the workplace and about what to do in a fire emergency. If you want your workers to evacuate, you should train them on how to escape. If you expect your workers to use portable fire extinguishers, you must provide hands-on training in using this equipment.”

Successful fire prevention requires education and hard work. By following local fire codes, matching up the right systems to the present dangers, maintaining those systems to keep them working efficiently and educating your staff on fire safety procedures, operators can reduce their risk of fire to their businesses and dreams. ?

DeAnn Owens is a freelance journalist living in Indianapolis. She specializes in features and human interest stories.