Fire safety isn’t exactly the most glamorous topic, I know. As restaurant owners, we’ve got a million different things demanding our attention – from perfecting recipes to managing staff to marketing our amazing establishments.
But we absolutely cannot afford to neglect fire prevention and response preparedness. I learned this the hard way early in my career when a small kitchen fire erupted into a nightmare, causing thousands in damage and lost revenue. After that wake-up call, I became passionate about fire safety. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to you!
My goal is to educate and empower you, not overwhelm you! So brew a fresh cup of coffee, cozy up, and let’s talk shop.
Step 1: Make Fire Safety Part of Your Restaurant’s Culture Through Ongoing Training
Our employees are our restaurants’ greatest asset – their skills and knowledge literally make or break our success. We’ve got to nurture our staff members and help them reach their full potential. This absolutely must include extensive training on fire safety. I’m talking detailed, hands-on instruction that gives your team the confidence and ability to help prevent fires proactively while responding appropriately if prevention fails.
Don’t make the common mistake of only providing a quick orientation session or fire safety video when employees first start. That information gets forgotten fast. Instead, incorporate fire safety into your restaurant’s culture through regular, interactive training refreshers. I recommend at least quarterly sessions, but monthly is even better. Repetition of these critical concepts keeps them top of mind.
So what specific topics should you cover? I’m so glad you asked!
Proper Use of Fire Safety Equipment
Does your staff know how to smoothly grab the correct fire extinguisher off the wall and use it properly to suppress flames? Can they adeptly handle fire blankets to smother sparks? What about those emergency exit signs? Equip your team with hands-on experience using all of your restaurant’s fire safety gear. I once had a server use aClass B extinguisher on a stovetop grease fire, which only made it worse! Let’s avoid that.
Emergency Power Shut-Off Procedures
Things can escalate frighteningly fast when fire strikes. Empower your staff to act quickly by showing them how to safely shut off gas lines and main electrical breakers to remove the “fuel” that feeds the fire. Mere seconds can make a difference between minor and major damage.
Remaining Calm Under Pressure
As restaurant pros, we thrive under high pressure – or at least we try to! But let’s be honest, a raging fire can shake anyone’s cool. During training, arm your team with techniques to keep focused and avoid panic, even when facing terrifying emergencies. Clear minds lead to clear problem-solving.
Fire Types and Tailored Responses
Not all fires are created equal. From electrical fires to grease fires and more, instruct your team on the different types of fires that can ignite and how to tailor response efforts accordingly. For example, tossing water on a grease fire creates an explosive hazard, while using an ABC extinguisher is effective.
Safe Chemical Handling
Reinforce the proper use, storage, and disposal of all chemicals and combustible supplies. Cover what makes them risky and how to keep them safely contained when not in direct use. Pro tip: Hang up-to-date safety data sheets around your restaurant!
See what I mean about being thorough? But it will pay off tremendously if that training ever needs to be put into action.
Step 2: Outfit Your Restaurant with the Right Fire Safety Equipment and Infrastructure
Alright, now that your team knows their stuff, let’s make sure your restaurant has all the right gear and systems in place. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are exits and exit routes prominently marked and unobstructed?
- Are fire extinguishers recently inspected and strategically located?
- Is the kitchen ventilation hood working properly and grease-free?
- Are sprinkler systems, fire alarms, and suppression systems up to code?
You get the idea! Be meticulously proactive with fire preparedness. Don’t forget required fire safety steps like:
Prominent and Lit Exit Signs
When you’ve got a packed house on a Friday night, the last thing you want is confused guests wandering around searching for the exits in an emergency. Invest in illuminated exit signs installed above all exterior doors. Make them big and bright!
Mapped Evacuation Routes
Work with your staff to map out designated evacuation routes and procedures for different scenarios. Post these clearly on walls throughout your restaurant and practice regularly. For example, the front exit could be the primary route, but the back exit is the go-to if the fire originates near the front.
Accessible, Inspected Extinguishers
These trusty red canisters are your first line of defense against small fires. Position several throughout your restaurant, with huge focus on the kitchen area. Commercial kitchens are high-risk zones! Assign someone to inspect extinguishers monthly.
Smoke detectors and fire alarm systems alert occupants of danger – but only if they’re operational! Have them professionally tested annually. Change batteries twice a year. When they sound, train staff to quickly investigate for signs of fire.
Clean Vent Hoods
The ventilation hoods above your stovetops do more than filter smoke – they also prevent grease buildup by whisking away oil particles. But they only work properly when kept clean! Enforce rigid hood cleaning procedures to avoid flammable grease accumulation.
Fire suppression systems use non-water agents like chemical powders to detect and extinguish flames. Especially useful around fryers! Stay on top of inspections and keep cartridges current.
Step 3: Comply With Fire Codes (It’s the Law!)
Now this part isn’t optional – it’s the law. All restaurants must meet fire protection standards enforced by local and state jurisdictions. Requirements vary between locations, so research what legally applies to your business specifically. Common mandated fire systems include:
Fire Alarm Systems
These critical warning systems incorporate features like blaring horns/buzzers, flashing strobe lights, and pre-recorded vocal instructions demanding evacuation when smoke or flames are detected. Hardwired and maintained alarm systems give occupants crucial extra seconds to escape safely. Ensure yours meets legal standards.
Fire Sprinkler Systems
You’ve probably seen the complex matrix of pipes running along ceilings with sprinkler heads dotted throughout. When fire happens, individual heads activate to shower water on their local area, controlling spread. Commercial kitchens often use more advanced mist systems since grease and water don’t mix well!
Proper Ventilation Hoods
Building code regulates the type of ventilation hood systems your restaurant must have installed over stovetops and other cooking equipment. In addition to removing grease, upgraded models feature built-in fire suppression. Look for the UL300 wet chemical label for optimal protection.
Step 4: Ready Your Fire Extinguishers for Action!
Even if you do everything right, fires still happen. That’s why knowledgeable use of fire extinguishers is so important! These portable canisters allow responding quickly to suppress flames before they grow into an inferno. I recommend keeping at minimum an ABC dry chemical extinguisher in the kitchen plus a Class K wet chemical extinguisher specifically designed for commercial kitchen grease fires.
Train your team on proper use of extinguishers – remember the handy PASS acronym:
- Pull the safety pin
- Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire
- Squeeze the trigger handle
- Sweep side to side at the flames
Also reinforce that extinguishers should only be used on small, contained fires. Evacuate immediately if the fire grows or spreads!
That’s it! We just covered a whole lot of ground when it comes to keep our beloved restaurants fire-safe. I know it wasn’t all glamorous, but keeping these concepts top of mind and proactively preparing with training and equipment truly saves lives and livelihoods.
Stay safe out there!