A fire is perhaps every restaurant owner or operator’s worst nightmare. As well as property damage and interrupting business, fires can also result in employee injury, risk to patrons and significant business loss as a whole. While the contributors to these fires are not all that uncommon, they often go unnoticed.

By far the major risk area in any restaurant is the kitchen, says Brian Haas, national fire protection director, Cintas Corporation, which recently released its top tips for fire prevention. “People don’t treat this as an important part of running their business,” Haas points out. “Skimping on fire protection is not a good place to be saving money.”

With a few proactive steps, operators can easily identify potential hazards and reduce the likelihood of a fire, he adds. Haas recommends all of the following for every restaurant:

  1. Always call 911 first, in the even of a fire.
  2. One person, typically a manager, should be appointed for fire prevention and fire prevention awareness. This person should be in charge of checking that all fire systems are in working order and are accessible, at least once a month. This person should also ensure that all employees are adequately trained in fire prevention and awareness.
  3. Invest the time to train all employees on how to discharge the kitchen hood suppression system, as well as how to operate a portable fire extinguisher. Employees should be trained to first discharge the hood system before grabbing the fire extinguisher in the event of a fire.
  4. Ensure that all the manual activators or pull stations for the hood suppression system are not obstructed. These systems disperse fire-fighting chemicals and also cut off the gas or electricity when there’s a fire. Regularly ensure there are clear paths to these pull stations and that pieces of equipment have not been pulled in front of them.
  5. Don’t alter the order of the appliances in the kitchen. This could change the amount of chemical product that is dispersed if the pull station is activated, which might not be sufficient in some appliances.
  6. Don’t move the nozzles that hang over the equipment to discharge the fire-extinguishing chemical. Make sure these are always hanging over the areas where a fire is most likely to start.
  7. Check these nozzles still have their caps—these are typically red plastic or metal. The caps are designed to prevent the nozzles from becoming clogged with grease.
  8. Keep a “K Class” extinguisher in the kitchen in addition to the kitchen hood suppression system. These portable extinguishers should be no more than 30 feet from the cooking line. They contain a wet agent and a special nozzle that are designed to coat and cool the cooking surface. K-class extinguishers should be used after activating the system.
  9. Clean all kitchen hood systems and filters regularly—every one to six months depending on the restaurant’s volume and cooking media. Oil and grease can easily build up on the exterior and interior surfaces of a hood suppression system, so it is important to regularly clean and remove this build up. This will prevent the suppression system from contributing to the fire rather than extinguishing it. Pick a reputable company to come in and do this cleaning.

“Fires cost eating and drinking establishments an estimated $229 million in direct property damage according to the most recent reports,” Haas explains. “Even worse, they can contribute to injury or death. By following this checklist, restaurant owners and operators can be sure they are performing their due diligence to reduce the opportunity of fire in the kitchen and ensure their hood suppression system functions properly.”

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