Building fires start in the kitchen most often. This risk increases when operating a New Mexico commercial kitchen in a restaurant or other food processing company. Commercial kitchens face high levels of risk for fire. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), in 2019, restaurant fires resulted in 110 bodily injuries and roughly $165 million in property damage.
Fires can devastate a business and human life. Those who have felt the actual destruction of fire understand this harsh reality. When a fire occurs, fire-related injuries and companies that experience fires often never recover, closing their doors for good.
For these reasons and many others, it is critical for business owners, managers, and supervisors to guarantee that the building that they oversee includes proper fire safety measures. This fact is especially the case for those working with or around restaurant kitchens.
Fire Safety in Commercial Kitchens
Commercial kitchens incorporate many elements that increase the risk for fires. This risk includes but is not limited to the following devices: ovens, ranges, fryers, and broilers. These cooking tools pose an increased risk for fires due to operating at extremely high temperatures. Furthermore, many of these elements also work in close contact with fats, cooking oils, and other flammable materials,
Cooking equipment used in restaurants accounts for starting 60 percent of all commercial fires studied by the NFPA. This fact highlights the fundamental importance of employing fire safety measures in commercial kitchens.
Ensuring adequate fire safety measures includes installing hoods, ducts, suppression systems, fire alarms, and more. These components also require regular maintenance and upkeep to ensure reliability.
Fire Safety Requirements
Our federal government publicly supports the necessity of fire safety. To ensure that fire safety is implemented in businesses and public places, the NFPA outlines strict guidelines for all eligible companies to comply.
The ’96 Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations’ is a document created by the NFPA to provide a comprehensive guide to the standards required of all commercial kitchens. This document details the requirements for fire safety to reduce risk and minimize damage.
The standards cover various options for fire-extinguishing systems, including automatic and portable. Automated fire systems constitute the first line of defense against fires, while portable fire extinguishers are a backup defense.
Industry experts recognize wet chemical systems to be the most effective fire suppression systems for commercial kitchens. This fact has led them to quickly become the most widely used suppression systems for restaurant kitchens.
Below is a breakdown of the NFPA 96 requirements, specifically regarding wet chemical fire suppression systems and automatic and portable fire extinguishing systems.
Automatic Fire Extinguishing Systems
NFPA has recently updated the 96 standards to require placards above all portable fire extinguishers. These placards declare that all automatic fire extinguishing systems must be activated before opting for portable extinguishers.
This fact is essential because automatic fire extinguishing systems are more effective than portable extinguishers. The update was made due to commercial kitchens increasingly becoming more advanced. Newer, more modern kitchen appliances can reach temperatures much higher than their predecessors. The abnormally high heat produced by newer kitchen appliances can ignite fires that are harder to extinguish. In these cases, frequently, a portable fire extinguisher is rendered ineffective. However, automatic extinguishing systems are still highly effective at quelling these fires.
Despite the name, automatic fire extinguishing systems can be activated manually. These systems are automated because they incorporate a trigger that automatically starts the system at a certain heat threshold. However, if the system does not register a high heat temperature for any reason, the system can begin employing an extinguisher if manually directed.
It is important to remember that fires grow at incredible speeds. A small, manageable fire can turn into an uncontrollable one in a matter of seconds. Fires at your business of any size are an immediate threat. When a fire occurs, activating your automatic fire extinguisher system should always be the priority.
All other actions to minimize a fire should be secondary. These actions include shutting off the electricity or gas or reaching for a portable extinguisher.
Class “K” Fire Extinguishers
While wet chemical fire suppression systems are arguably the most effective and reliable fire suppression systems available, suppression systems are not immune to failure. For this reason, portable fire extinguishers should always be known as a secondary alternative.
The NFPA recognizes this fact, and that is why the NFPA 96 and the NFPA 10 Standard include requirements for portable fire extinguishers in commercial kitchens.
Class “K” fire extinguishers are specially formulated for oil and grease fires, making them an excellent choice for commercial kitchens. These extinguishers spray chemical agents that effectively coat hot oils or grease with a non-flammable, soap-like substance.
The necessary size of the class “K” extinguisher is largely dependent on the size and scope of the individual commercial kitchen. The greater the hazard, the larger extinguisher you will need in place.
To determine what size class “K” extinguishers you need for your business, consult the Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AJH).
Class “K” vs Class “B”
Class “K” rated fire extinguishers are often confused with Class “B” extinguishers for a good reason. Class “B” extinguishers handle fires caused by flammable liquids or chemicals.
While hot oil and grease are technically flammable liquids, Class “B” extinguishers are not designed specifically with hot oil and grease in mind. Class “K” extinguishers address oil/grease fires directly as well as accommodating other fire hazards unique to commercial kitchens.
For these reasons, along with many others, when choosing portable fire extinguishers for your commercial kitchen, choose class “K” instead of class “B.”
Wet Chemical Fire Suppression Systems in Commercial Kitchens
Wet chemical fire suppression systems serve as an excellent fire prevention tool for any restaurant or commercial kitchen. These systems effectively protect hoods, ducts, and cooking appliances from fire hazards.
These systems are often “pre-engineered”, meaning their manufacturer uniquely specifies them. As a result, the manufacturer determines installation, repair, and maintenance and may differ from other systems within the same class.
Accommodating for this discrepancy involves contacting certified technicians who the system’s manufacturer has verified. These technicians will educate you and your staff on proper installation, repair, and maintenance. Furthermore, they will be able to perform detailed inspections on your equipment after installment to ensure appropriate care and use.
Wet chemical fire suppression systems work by spraying a soap-like chemical agent which reacts with oil and grease to create a thick, non-combustible foam. This foam will effectively smother out the fire and reduce the temperature to below the burning point.
Typically, these fire suppression systems use a suppression tank to store the chemical agent and piping integrated into the ductwork of the building. This configuration allows the fire suppression system to cover the entire kitchen and provide the most fire safety and protection.
When installing wet chemical fire suppression systems, the design and placement of the piping are crucial. Placement configuration and installation of the system’s piping must accommodate the current ductwork of the establishment. Inspect all pre-existing infrastructure when preparing to install a new system or upgrading an existing wet chemical fire suppression
The design of your unique fire suppression system should be carried out by certified contractors. These contractors should be educated not only on the federal and local fire regulations but also on the unique needs of your system. Manufacturers of these systems train and employ contractors to accomplish this. It is recommended to contact the manufacturer of your chosen system to complete the design and installation of that system.
The AJH has various guidelines that must be complied with when designing and implementing a fire suppression system. The agency ensures compliance by requiring that all installers provide certification to the AJH before and after installation. This certification is valid if the installer verifies that all regulations were followed regarding both AJH standards and the manufacturer’s standards.
Fire Suppression System Regulations
The NFPA 96 and the ANSI/UL 300 outline various requirements of wet chemical fire suppression systems. These requirements cover what is deemed acceptable regarding fire test methods, maintenance, quality standards, inspection grade, and more.
While wet chemical fire suppression systems are the most effective, they are not the only option for fire prevention. Many different fire safety systems can or need to be operational within all commercial-grade kitchens.
These systems include grease removal devices, hood exhaust systems, and more. Regulation of most fire safety systems is by the ANSI/UL 300 or other certified organizations.
Contact your local New Mexico fire safety experts, Brazas Fire, at 505-889-8999, to see if your kitchen’s fire prevention system meets federal and local guidelines