Fires of any size in a restaurant are always a cause for concern. Managers and staff must be aware of fire hazards to take the preventative steps necessary when it comes to fire safety. Throughout my decades of experience in the fire protection industry in Mesa, Arizona, I have helped dozens of restaurant owners prepare their employees and kitchens to meet fire safety standards. By following a few simple steps, you can prevent fires from taking place keeping your customers and employees safe.
Get regular fire safety inspections
Conducting regular fire inspections is the first step restaurant managers must take to ensure fire safety. Inspections of safety equipment must be done annually by a professional fire inspector for approval by the fire marshal. Managers and owners cannot conduct fire inspections themselves. Fire extinguishers, alarms, exits lights and sprinkler systems must all be inspected and repaired if needed during this process.
During the fire inspection certain safety items must be changed or brought up to code per the National Fire Protection Association. A couple of examples include recharging fire extinguishers every 6 years or after each use, and fire sprinkler gauges must be changed every 5 years.
Most of the time, if you have been keeping up with your fire safety system, repairs are minimal. If you let repairs go unaddressed for extended periods of time the cost of these fixes will go up quite a lot.
Discuss emergency action plans
Every restaurant manager must provide their employees a written emergency action plan to ensure everyone knows the business’ emergency procedures.
Emergency action plans must cover employer and employee actions that must take place in case of a fire emergency, according to OSHA. The emergency plan must cover equipment shutdowns and when fire suppression efforts need to take place. The restaurant manager must ensure all employees understand these procedures and know all escape routes to not only get themselves out of the building in case of a fire but to help all guests as well.
Management is required to review the emergency action plan with employees during certain time periods. These include when the employees are hired, when their responsibilities change, such as being promoted to a new position, and if the emergency plan changes in any way.
Proper placement of fire extinguishers
All restaurants must have the right classes of fire extinguishers to put out a variety of fires. Class K extinguishers are required in all restaurant kitchens. These fire extinguishers use a chemical to smother grease fires. In the front of the restaurant, you must have class ABC fire extinguishers installed. These extinguishers are your all-purpose extinguishers used in putting out small fires.
Fire extinguishers must be mounted and free of debris for easy access. Do not allow employees to hang aprons, jackets, or other materials on them. Timing is everything when a fire takes place. Quick access to the fire extinguisher will help put out the fire or suppress it enough so it does not spread.
Test your alarm system
The alarm system in your restaurant is the most critical element of your fire safety system. When an alarm sounds your employees and guests know immediately there is a potential danger, and they must evacuate the building.
Restaurant managers must conduct regular tests of the establishment’s fire alarm system. Most restaurant fire alarm systems can be tested directly from the control panel. Set the control panel into testing mode so it will not call authorities and press the button again to set off the alarms. For older systems you may need to manually activate the system by opening an alarm box and pressing the button inside. Record the results of the test by making a list of every activated device and how it reacted during the test. If one or more alarms did not sound this information will help a fire technician locate the issue quickly to repair the problem.
Clean the oven hoods
The largest fire hazard in any restaurant kitchen is the oven ventilation hood. Most fires that occur in professional kitchens are due to the hood not being properly cleaned. The hood allows for steam and smoke to escape through the ventilation pipes and out of the building. Over time grease and grime builds up in the hood that can easily catch fire if a flame is sucked up through the hood.
When the ventilation hood is dirty, the system attached to it will not actuate for the chemicals to come out of the lines. If the lines don’t actuate, then there is nothing to suppress the fire and it can spread quickly due to grease build up.
Have a professional come in and clean the hood on a regular basis, at least every six weeks. The ventilation hood also needs inspection by a professional semi-annually or at least every six months.
Keeping up with your fire safety protocols is important for all restaurants and bars. Following these steps and getting annual inspections will keep your employees and customers safe in case of a fire emergency. Conducting regular inspections, keeping your staff informed and regular cleaning will go a long way in protecting your restaurant.
Steve Lockwood is owner of Mountain State Fire Protection LLC which specializes in premier fire equipment and comprehensive fire protection services.