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Igniting Preparations: Fire Safety for Restaurants

Fire safety is critical for restaurants because it can help to prevent thousands of dollars of damages and serious injuries. The propensity for fires to occur in restaurants is due to the many potentially flammable objects found in commercial kitchens. Understanding how to prevent fires in your restaurant and knowing what to do when a fire breaks out can help mitigate damages and potentially save lives.

With different types of fires stemming from various sources, it’s important for staff to keep an eye on all potential areas of danger to ensure the risk of fire is kept to a minimum.

Preparing your restaurant for fire safety practices is not only extremely important, but it can be tricky, so we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to get you started.

Fire Safety Training

One of the most important tools a restaurant can have in its fire safety bag is training. Staff should learn fire safety protocols, the steps they can take to prevent fires, and be made aware of the common fire hazards to avoid. Equally important, it’s critical that employees are well-trained in fire response, allowing them to react quickly and appropriately.

To develop a thorough fire safety plan, the following should be included in your restaurant's training program and outlined in your employee handbook:

How to Operate Fire Safety Equipment - Everyone in your crew, from servers to kitchen staff, should know how to operate fire safety equipment and supplies. Train staff to know how to use a fire extinguisher. The acronym PAST (pull out the pin, aim at the base, make a sweeping motion, (be) ten feet away) comes in handy here. Also make sure that every employee knows where all fire extinguishers can be located inside the restaurant. Staff should also know which types of fires require which types of equipment.

Being Familiar With Power Sources - Your staff should also be acquainted with the various power source locations in the kitchen and dining room and know how to turn them off in the event of a fire.

Learning Appropriate Crisis Response Training - Employees should be trained in responding to emergencies like fires in a calm and appropriate way to prevent panic and fear among customers. Designate one employee to be in charge of dialing 911 and leading the evacuation. All employees should also know where the emergency exits are.

Understanding Different Types of Fires - Staff should be trained to understand how to handle the different types of fires that can occur in the kitchen, and how to respond to them.

Refresher Courses - Provide employees with frequent fire safety refresher courses so information stays fresh in their minds. Make fire safety training a part of onboarding.

Fire Safety Checklist

To keep your restaurant safe from fire danger, your establishment should be equipped with the right tools and safety plans. When you have the right measures in place, not only can you respond to fires quickly and appropriately, but you can prevent them altogether.

To properly outfit your restaurant for fire safety, we’ve put together a checklist of the most important aspects.

  • Exit signs should be installed and visible above all exits, and employees should be aware of emergency exits at all times.

  • Fire exits should be mapped out, clearly posted on walls, and taught to all employees.

  • Exits should be kept clear and free from obstructions so an evacuation can take place quickly.

  • Appliances and other equipment should be inspected and maintained on a regular basis to reduce risks.

  • Flammable objects such as liquids and chemicals should be stored as intended.

  • Fire extinguishers should be placed all around the restaurant, in both back and front-of-house, especially in areas where fires are more likely to occur. They should be clearly marked, free from obstacles and blockages, and easily accessible by all employees.

Fire Codes

Restaurant fire codes dictate that some type of fire protection is required. Legal requirements differ depending on the size and location of an establishment, as some restaurants are required to have more fire protection than others.Check and double-check your local and state laws to ensure that your restaurant is up-to-code.

Fire Alarm Systems

Fire alarm systems are one of the most important defenses against fire damage, as they give staff and customers warning of fire danger. A fire alarm system must be equipped with clearly visible signals and/or a voice system that makes it clear that a fire is happening.

Fire Sprinkler Systems

A fire sprinkler system is a fire protection method that consists of a water supply, a water distribution system, and sprinkler heads that allow for discharge. There are four different types of fire sprinkler systems, but wet pipe sprinklers are the most common type found in kitchens. Because water isn’t always the best for dealing with grease and chemical fires, it’s important to have other forms of fire suppression to complement your sprinkler system.

Fire Suppression Systems

Unlike fire sprinkler systems, fire suppression systems use a variety of other agents instead of water. Engineered to detect fire through heat and smoke, a fire suppression system discharges chemical agents to control a fire. Used primarily to deal with common kitchen fires like grease and class K fires, most fire suppression systems in restaurant kitchens use wet chemicals.

Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are one of your restaurant’s main tools in stopping fires once they break out of control. Typically used as a last resort, all employees should be trained in the use of a fire extinguisher in the event of a serious fire.

Keep portable fire extinguishers in the kitchen and strategically placed around the dining area. There are different types of fire extinguishers for different types of fires. Class ABC fire extinguishers are for fires involving paper, wood, textiles, and plastic. Class K extinguishers are for grease fires.

Restaurant Kitchen Hood Exhaust Systems

Kitchen hood exhaust systems provide ventilation and work to remove hazardous particles from the environment. When a kitchen hood is installed, it can help reduce the build-up of smoke and grease, helping to prevent fires. Routinely inspect and clean your kitchen hood exhaust systems, as a dirty ventilation hood can build up grease and become fire hazards.

Common Types of Restaurant Fires

General Fires

General fires are those not involving grease or chemicals such as a smoldering cigarette, paper, plastic, or wood.

How to Prevent a General Fire

  • Make sure that you install an automatic fire-suppression system in your kitchen. Because there are several different types, choose one that works best with your kitchen size and inspect it at least twice a year.

  • Schedule routine maintenance and cleaning for your exhaust system, including hoods, and other kitchen equipment. Dirty or broken equipment is one of the primary sources for fires in restaurants, so do your best to catch problems as they arise.

  • Ensure that your sprinkler and alarm systems are regularly tested and in working order. Sprinkler systems should be inspected by a professional at least twice a year. Keep back-up batteries for your fire alarms at all times.

  • Don’t procrastinate on making any repairs or changes in your fire prevention system.

  • Try to stay away from paper and cardboard and use flame-retardant materials for cloth items such as dish cloths, aprons, curtains, napkins, and tablecloths.

Grease Fires

Grease fires are one of the most common types of kitchen fires, so it’s critical that you and your staff know how to avoid them. With proper training and knowledge, preventing grease fires becomes a much easier task, but if a mistake happens and a grease fire starts, knowing how to handle one can keep the event small rather than becoming a full-blown disaster.

Grease fires generally start when cooking oil becomes too hot, often because it is left unattended. During cooking, oils will begin boiling before they start to smoke and eventually catch fire.

How to Prevent a Grease Fire

  • Start by always having clean and proper grease filters. Grease filters should be constructed of steel or a NFPA-approved material. Mesh filters are not approved by the NFPA. Filters should be easily accessible and removable for cleaning, and installed at an angle not less than 45 degrees horizontal.

  • To prevent grease fires from occuring in the first place, always clean up grease from the equipment, floor, and walls

  • Be sure to regularly clean out grease traps to prevent overflow.

  • Inspect and clean your exhaust system regularly.

How to Put Out a Grease Fire

If a grease fire does occur in your kitchen, your staff should know how to quickly mitigate its spread.

  • Turn Off Heat Source If the fire starts in a pot, the pot should be covered with a lid to starve the fire of heat and oxygen.

  • For small grease fires, pour baking soda to extinguish.

  • If a large grease fire breaks out, a fire extinguisher should be used to prevent it from spreading.

Common Grease Fire Mistakes To Avoid

Although there are correct ways to respond to grease fires, there are still many misconceptions and myths surrounding how to deal with one. Many of these mistaken ways to put out a grease fire can actually fan the flames and make the fire spiral out of control.

Using Flour to Put Out a Grease Fire - Flour is easily ignitable, quickly making a fire worse.

Trying to Put Out a Grease Fire with Water - Water and oil do not mix, so water will cause the oil to splash and the fire to spread faster.

Using Baking Powder to Put Out a Grease Fire- Many people confuse baking soda with baking powder, but the two are not chemically the same. Much like flour, baking powder will make a grease fire much worse.

Class K Fires

Another common type of fire you could possibly encounter in your restaurant is a class K fire. A class K fire is caused and fueled by flammable cooking liquids such as vegetable oils. Cooking with these types of flammable liquids can be precarious because class K fires tend to spread fast and cause a great deal of damage. Because vegetable oils burn at hotter temperatures than animal fat, these scorching hot fires are difficult to extinguish.

Class K fire extinguishers are a type of fire extinguisher specifically designed to handle cooking fires. These fire extinguishers use wet chemical agents that are designed to starve a fire from the fuel it requires. Only class K fire extinguishers are effective at dealing with class K fires. Never use anything else to handle a class K fire such as pouring water over the fire as it will cause it to spread faster.

Chemical/Electric Fires

The third type of common kitchen fire is a chemical or electrical fire. To prevent this type of fire, follow these tips:

  • Schedule regular maintenance on electrical equipment. Make sure there are no frayed cords or wiring or broken switch plates.

  • Keep all combustible items away from power sources.

  • Store flammable liquids in the proper containers in well-ventilated areas, away from ovens, stoves, or other heat sources.

  • Do not mix chemical solutions unless the directions say to do so.

  • Clean up all spills and have a clean-up area where employees can go if chemicals get on their skin.

Restaurant Fire Evacuation Plan

Even when all preventative measures are taken and your restaurant is equipped to deal with a fire, unforeseen situations and mishaps can occur resulting in an out-of-control fire. Be sure that your restaurant has an evacuation plan in place to make sure all employees and customers can safely exit the building in the event of an uncontrollable fire.

To ensure that everyone stays safe, be sure to keep these tips in mind.

Create an Action Plan - Have a written actionable emergency plan in place and train all employees to know how the plan works.

Designate an Evacuation Manager - Assign a designated staff member who is responsible for calling emergency services and overseeing a safe evacuation. Make sure to assign one for every shift.

Follow Designate Fire Escape Routes - Employees should be trained to know the restaurant’s emergency fire escape routes and are responsible for instructing customers and making sure they get out safely.

There are many aspects of restaurant safety that your establishment needs to understand to minimize the risk of dangers like fires. Though following fire safety practices and procedures requires some work and effort, taking the necessary steps can help prevent your restaurant, employees, and customers from disaster.

By keeping these guidelines in mind, you’ve taken the first step towards making your restaurant a safer place for yourself, your staff, and your customers.

By Eileen Strauss


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