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.”