Kitchen fires are an ever-present danger in restaurants. Grease fires and Class K fires fueled by cooking oils are especially precarious. Though preventative measures can reduce the risk, fires can still occur. By understanding what causes these fires, how to extinguish them, and having an evacuation plan, restaurants can protect their staff, customers and property when disaster strikes.
How Do Grease Fires Start?
Grease fires begin when cooking oils grow dangerously hot from being left unattended. As oils heat up, they will start to boil, then smoke, and eventually ignite into flames. Attentive staff can spot these warning signs and prevent a fire by turning down the heat or removing the oil from the burner. But kitchens get busy, and accidents happen.
Grease fires often start when deep fryers, pans, and other cooking vessels are left unattended. The oil continues heating until it surpasses its smoke point and ignites. Unattended stovetops and built up grease in vents and filters also commonly cause grease fires in restaurants. During busy rushes, it’s easy for staff to get distracted from monitoring temperatures and oil levels.
Combating grease fire hazards requires constant diligence. Staff need proper training to remain alert and watch for early warning signs. Proper kitchen maintenance like regularly cleaning vents and replacing old equipment can also reduce risks. But even the most careful kitchen is prone to slip ups. Equipping staff to swiftly respond when grease fires do occur is key.
How to Put Out a Grease Fire
When a grease fire breaks out in the kitchen, every second counts. Staff should follow these essential steps to extinguish the flames before major damage occurs:
Turn Off the Heat Source
The first priority is eliminating the fuel feeding the fire. Burners, fryers and other heat sources should be switched off immediately. For contained fires, placing a lid over the vessel to cut off oxygen supply can also help extinguish the flames.
For minor grease fires contained to a pan or vessel, baking soda can be an effective extinguisher. The bicarbonate in baking soda reacts with the fatty acids in the oil, smothering the fire. Generously covering the base of the flames with baking soda is safer than using water on a grease fire.
If the fire grows beyond the vessel, staff need to act fast. A fire extinguisher designed for commercial kitchens should be used to suppress the flames before they spread further. Sweeping the nozzle side to side, aim at the base of the fire. The extinguisher discharges a chemical spray that disrupts combustion.
If the fire cannot be safely extinguished with an extinguisher, get out of the building immediately and call emergency responders. Attempting to fight a raging grease fire puts lives at risk.
Common Grease Fire Mistakes
Though grease fires have straightforward response steps, mistakes are often made in the heat of the moment that exacerbate the situation:
It may seem like flour would cut off oxygen supply and smother a grease fire. But with a low flash point, flour easily ignites and causes explosions. This turns a minor grease fire into an inferno.
Water and oil don’t mix. Water molecules sink under oil, causing splatter and spreading the grease fire rapidly. Even a few drops of water in a grease fire leads to disaster.
In a moment of panic, baking powder is often mistakenly used instead of baking soda. But these two baking staples have vastly different chemical properties. Baking powder contains additional ingredients that intensify grease fires. Only baking soda should be used.
Proper training helps staff bypass these common mistakes and respond appropriately when facing down a grease fire. Regular fire safety drills prepare them to handle the stress and think clearly. And placing highly visible guides like posters in the kitchenreinforces the right protocols.
The Combustible Nature of Class K Fires
While grease fires can be caused by any type of cooking oil, Class K fires are specifically fueled by vegetable oils like canola, sunflower and corn oil. These oils burn at higher temperatures than animal-based fats, making Class K fires especially volatile.
All commercial kitchens are at high risk for Class K fires due to the volume of vegetable oil used for frying and sauteing. The frequent heating of oil makes it more likely to combust. And Class K fires are more challenging to extinguish than other types of kitchen fires.
Class K fires can rapidly engulf entire kitchens when flammable cooking oils ignite and are left uncontrolled. In addition to standard fire hazards, hot oil is prone to splattering and can cause severe burns. Their ability to combust and flow as a liquid makes Class K fires particularly destructive if proper safety steps aren’t followed.
Specialized Class K Fire Extinguishers
Fighting a Class K fire requires an extinguisher designed specifically for hot cooking oils. Standard ABC dry chemical extinguishers used throughout commercial buildings lack the fire-fighting agents needed to battle a Class K fire.
Class K extinguishers contain a low pH wet chemical potassium acetate. This agent reacts with the oils, converting them into soapy substances that are unable to sustain a flame. Class K extinguishers also adhere to hot surfaces, suppressing the fire throughout cleanup.
Class K extinguishers should be installed in commercial kitchens according to local fire codes, clearly marked and readily accessible. But even having the proper equipment is only half the battle against Class K fires. Staff need training on when and how to operate Class K extinguishers for maximum effectiveness.
Creating a Fire Evacuation Plan
Preventing fires through safe practices and responding appropriately when fires do occur are the first lines of defense. But even well-prepared kitchens can experience catastrophic blazes. That’s why having a documented evacuation plan is a necessity.
When evacuation is deemed necessary, seconds matter. All staff members need to know their exact roles and responsibilities to get everyone out unharmed in a crisis.
Designate an Evacuation Manager
Each shift should have a staff member assigned as evacuation manager. When fires can’t be extinguished, the evacuation manager is responsible for calling emergency services and overseeing safe exit of the building.
Establish Exit Routes
Mark clear emergency exit routes that lead to a predetermined meeting location away from the building. Make sure all staff understand the routes and assist customers as needed during an evacuation.
Conduct Regular Drills
Evacuation training prepares staff to act quickly and deliberately during an emergency. Include drills as part of new employee orientation and schedule refresher drills every 6 months.
Account For Everyone
The evacuation manager must confirm all employees and customers safely exited the building and take count at the meeting point. Never re-enter a burning building!
Review and Improve
After each drill or real evacuation, gather feedback to improve evacuation procedures. Update the plan regularly and retrain staff on changes.
Protecting Your Restaurant from Fire
Fire safety is often treated as an afterthought in busy restaurants. But being proactive and prepared can mean the difference between a small stove fire and losing an entire business. Make fire drills, extinguisher training and enforcing kitchen safety protocols a top priority. Empower your team to act decisively if a fire breaks out. And have a plan to safely evacuate in a worst case scenario. With the right knowledge and practice, your restaurant can avoid fire-related tragedies.