Preventing and Recovering From Fires

The February 2013 fire that engulfed Rich’s Restaurant in Wisconsin began on the cooking line. The eatery reopened as Jim’s Grille in March 2014.
The February 2013 fire that engulfed Rich’s Restaurant in Wisconsin began on the cooking line. The eatery reopened as Jim’s Grille in March 2014. Paul Davis Restoration & Remodeling of Southeast and Fox Valley Wisconsin

Restaurateurs spend a lot of time, money, and effort ensuring their businesses never have to deal with the devastation that a fire can cause. But with restaurants’ propensity for open flames, hot cooking equipment, flammable oils, and cleaning chemicals in the kitchen, it’s no surprise that data released by the National Fire Protection Association in 2012 reveals approximately 8,000 restaurants report a fire each year.

Some things operators can do to prevent fires seem like no-brainers—storing paper products, liquids, and food away from heat and cooking sources; disposing of soiled rags and trash properly; and cleaning ovens and equipment daily. The problem, experts say, is that operators can follow all the precautions and still have a fire wreck their business.

In 2013, Jim Joyce, owner of Rich’s Restaurant in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, watched a three-alarm fire—a category that signals serious damage—engulf his restaurant as a fire that began on the cooking line jumped into the exhaust hood and spread.

“It was utter devastation throughout, specifically on the cooking line,” says Ryan Beeck, project manager for Paul Davis Restoration & Remodeling, who led the restoration job. “The bulk of the equipment was damaged beyond any sort of repair. We took everything out, gutted it all, and started from scratch.”

Joyce used the opportunity to make significant improvements. The last remodel had occurred more than 10 years ago; the revamped restaurant now has a trendier feel with new interior finishes and an updated menu. Along with changing the restaurant name to Jim’s Grille when it re-opened in March 2014, Joyce also educated his staff about what to do in case a fire breaks out again.

“Most times, the work we do is related to grease fires that jump up and then there’s no means to stop it,” Beeck says. “The two biggest things you can do for prevention is to have annual maintenance checks on your equipment, especially anything involving gas, and stick to the cleaning program as prescribed for your exhaust hoods.”



This article is too short and is missing most of the 'how to prevent' part, as well as the impact on recovery. Preventing a fire is about a lot of activities that you start with in-house, training your team to never cook without filters in place and fan turned on, soaking filters daily to clean them (or use an exchange company), keeping equipment clean under and behind (where there isn't any fire protection), making sure those caps are always on the fire suppression nozzles, and more; ensuring that the area does not have flammables is also important but when I hear about fires flammable items like paper goods is rarely the issue, typically it has to do with housekeeping. Start with that and also training on what to do when you see a fire, when to use a K-Class extinguisher, when to pull the pull station, and then ensuring you have a fire protection and also a kitchen exhaust vendor (often these are two separate vendors) that is reputable and adheres to code is also vital, but remember they will only be in your store a few times a year, not every day, so relying on there expertise when they aren't there is not a good plan. As for recovering, often fires result in significant down time to rebuild, eroding the customer base, there are deductibles, and often insurance coverage isn't enough, you lose staff because they find other jobs (or end up on unemployment), so you often have to rehire and retrain everyone. Most of what fire prevention providers do is not understood or goes unseen (inside ductwork), so ask questions about what they are doing and why, understand how your system functions, what to do if you have extra buildup from perhaps cooking without filters for a time, or running a special that impacts buildup quickly, partner with a company that provides pictures of service and which informs you of any deficiency items they find. I work for Averus and we value being a partner in fire safety, check us out if you want to learn more or have questions.


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