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Facts New Mexico Restaurant Owners Need to Know Regarding Fire Safety

By operating a restaurant, fire safety is one aspect owners cannot afford to overlook.

With cooking equipment running all day, grease accumulation in kitchen ducts, gas lines feeding appliances, and faulty electrical systems, restaurants provide the perfect storm of fire hazards.

In New Mexico, where the restaurant industry sees over $4 billion in annual revenue, the threat of fire is very real. Owners have a responsibility not just to protect their livelihood, but the lives of employees and customers too.

Being proactive and guarding against fire is the only way to run a safe establishment.

The Hard Facts on Restaurant Fires

The statistics on restaurant fires paint a dangerous picture that owners must face.

  • Fire departments in the U.S. respond to a staggering 1.3 million fires per year – that’s one every 23 seconds.
  • These fires result in 3,800 civilian deaths, nearly 15,000 injuries, and a whopping $15.9 billion in property damage annually.
  • Specifically looking at eateries, they account for $165 million in property damage from fires every year.
  • Between 2012-2016, fire departments responded to an average 8,240 restaurant fires annually. That’s nearly 23 restaurant fires a day.
  • With open flames, hot surfaces, and miles of electrical wires, it’s sadly no wonder restaurants burn so easily and often. But owners committed to safety can drastically slash their fire risk.

Restaurant Fire Prevention

Protecting your business, staff, and customers from fire starts with being proactive. By installing key systems and sticking to crucial safety steps, you can effectively fire-proof your restaurant.

First and foremost, an automated fire suppression system in the kitchen is a must. Pay for professional installation and biannual inspections to keep it fully operational. These systems detect rising heat and smoke, then automatically spray flame-retardant chemicals from the ceiling while cutting power to equipment. Kitchen staff should also have Class K portable extinguishers on hand specifically designed for grease fires.

On top of suppression systems, fire alarms and sprinklers are vital additions. Routinely tested and well-maintained fire alarms allow staff to notice fires the moment they start, when damage can still be minimized. Sprinklers help contain flames and stop fires from spreading rapidly. Having both protects all areas of your restaurant.

Restaurant Kitchen Fire Safety Maintenance

When it comes to fire safety, the kitchen is the danger zone. Open flames, hot surfaces, and greasy air – it’s a risky combo. These are key maintenance tasks and safety procedures you can try:

  • Maintain your equipment properly. It allows you to catch issues before they go up in smoke, sometimes literally.
  • Conduct monthly exhaust system inspections to catch any grease buildup. That stuff is fuel for intense fires. If you’re a high volume restaurant, make it quarterly.
  • Catch gas leaks early by keeping an eye out for odd burner behavior daily. Flames not looking right? Pilot lights gone out? Address any gas issues immediately.
  • When the fire inspector comes through annually, view it as a learning opportunity rather than a hassle. They may catch risks you never noticed.
  • Only use fireproof furniture and drapes. If you want some candlelight ambiance, get the proper open flame permits.
  • Outdated electronics can become fire hazards. Have an electrician periodically maintain sockets, switches, wiring, and appliances. Replace any damaged cords or wiring without delay.

Cooking System Cleanings

Clean oven hoods every night. Schedule deep cleanings by professionals regularly to get all that hidden gunk. Grease buildup fuels fierce flames.

Don’t forget the ductwork and fans that vent cooking fumes outside. Grease coats them too, so they need professional scrub downs.

Wipe down all surfaces – walls, ranges, grills – that can get sticky with grease residue. Leave no fuel for potential fires.

Training Staff to Be Fire Safety All-Stars

Want to keep your restaurant safe? Make sure your team is equipped with the right fire safety and prevention skills.

Conduct Complete Hands-On Fire Training

Don’t just tell employees what to do in a fire – show them! And make it mandatory, not optional.

See if your local fire department can come on-site to guide staff through tactical response training. My buddy Luis over at Firehouse Station 3 makes it super engaging for restaurant teams. Employees will learn:

  • How to properly use a fire extinguisher via live demos (aim low, sweep side to side!)
  • Where extinguishers, alarms, and emergency gas/power shutoffs are located
  • Multiple evacuation routes to safely guide patrons from danger
  • Protocol for emergency medical response once safely outside

Luis always says, “Train like your lives depend on it, because they do.” He’s not dramatic, he’s right.

Safely Removing Ashes

For the growing number of chefs using snazzy wood-fired ovens or charcoal grills, ash safety is mandatory.

Ensure cooks fully extinguish ashes and transfer them daily to a metal bin located at least 10 feet from the building. Never let ashes accumulate inside overnight – they can reignite!

Keep Things Tidy

Clutter breeds fire. It’s science. Ensure you have policies to minimize combustibles through daily tidiness habits like:

  • Properly storing paper goods, linens, boxes in low fire-risk areas
  • Immediately removing oil-stained rags, trash, recycling
  • Extinguishing cigarettes fully before outdoor disposal
  • Never ever smoking near storage rooms

Make it someone’s end-of-night duty to scan for clutter fire hazards. It takes two minutes and saves lives.

Check Emergency Lighting Systems

During fires, main power can fail. Ensure exit signs and emergency pathways light up by testing backup systems monthly. It only takes a second and allows safe evacuation when seconds count.

Don’t Forget Insurance!

Make sure your business is covered. Compare plans from multiple brokers.

Staying on top of fire safety does take effort but pays back infinitely when crisis strikes. And your community recognizes restaurants who truly value their safety.