"I heard a pop, then a bang, and I was just surrounded—engulfed—in fire," one cook said describing a kitchen fire he experienced at a Massachusetts restaurant last September.

Fires are one of the biggest threats to restaurants. According to a 2017 report from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), over 8,000 restaurant fires occurred in 2014, resulting in an estimated $165 million in property damage.

Fire safety is essential for restaurant owners to prevent tragic outcomes like lost revenue, permanent closure, injured occupants or even death. Read on to learn how you can protect your restaurant, customers and staff members from the devastating effects of a fire.

Follow Codes and Regulations

As a restaurant owner, understand fire codes and best practices in your jurisdiction.

Both states and municipalities set fire and safety codes. Most fire and safety codes can be found using the CodeFinder tool provided by the NFPA. However, if your state or municipality has not published restaurant fire codes online, then you’ll need to contact them directly. For more information, visit the NFPA Codes and Standards page to view a list of over 300 consensus fire codes and standards.

Install and Maintain Fire Protection Equipment

Fire protection equipment can help minimize fire damage and save lives. Here’s what you need to protect your restaurant:

  • Smoke Detectors: Install smoke detectors with photoelectric capabilities. Using a light-sensing chamber, photoelectric smoke detectors alert you of a fire whenever smoke enters that chamber. Additionally, smoke detectors specially fitted for ductwork will shut off the ventilation system when triggered, preventing smoke inhalation.
  • Automatic SprinklersHeat-activated sprinklers installed in the ceiling turn on when a fire’s extreme heat is detected, beginning the fire-fighting process before emergency services arrive.
  • Manual Pull Stations: Install easy-to-reach manual fire alarms so anyone can pull them in the event of a fire. These alarms emit a visual and audio signals, alerting people to leave the dangerous area.
  • Portable Fire Extinguishers: Keep Class K extinguishers in kitchens to protect against fires involving grease, fats and oils. Use Class ABC extinguishers elsewhere for other fires, like paper, wood, plastic and electrical.
  • Automatic Fire (Hood) Suppression System: Install an automatic fire suppression system in the kitchen. A suppression system connects to the hood over your cooking station and also the gas line. When a fire is detected, these systems will automatically release chemicals to suppress the fire as well as turning off the power supply to nearby cooking equipment. Fire suppression systems should be professionally inspected and monitored to further reduce the risk of kitchen fires.
  • Regular Electrical Maintenance: Inspect electrical appliances to identify hazards like frayed cords or wires, broken switch plates and combustible materials near power sources.
  • Exhaust System Inspections: The NFPA Fire Code requires regular inspections for exhaust systems, depending on the size of your operation. For example, quarterly inspections are required for systems in high-volume operations and semiannual inspections for moderate-volume operations. Additionally, monthly inspections are required for exhaust systems serving solid-fuel cooking equipment, like wood-burning ovens.

Train Your Staff

In addition to installing and maintaining fire protection equipment, you’ll need to educate your staff on the following:

  • Fire Extinguisher Use: Teach your staff how to properly use a fire extinguisher. Use the acronym PAST: Pull the pin, aim at the base, make a sweeping motion and stay ten feet away.
  • Grease Clean Up: Always clean exhaust hoods to prevent grease buildup from restricting airflow. Also, clean walls and work surfaces, such as ranges, fryers, boilers and grills.
  • Grease Fire Control: Never throw water on a grease fire. This will cause grease to spread and erupt in a larger fire.
  • Ashes Removal: Wood or charcoal burning ovens need to be emptied at least once a day. Store ashes in a metal container at least 10 feet from the building and flammable materials.
  • Flammable Liquid Storage: Keep flammable liquids in original containers and store them in a well-ventilated area away from ignition sources.
  • Chemical Solutions Usage: Chemicals should only be used in well-ventilated areas. Also, never mix chemicals unless directions call for it, and always clean up chemical spills immediately.
  • Power Down Procedure: At least one worker per shift must know how to shut off gas and electrical power to prevent more damage in the event of an emergency.
  • Evacuation Plan: One staff member per shift must be designated as the evacuation manager. This person is responsible for calling 911 and safe evacuation. 

Minimizing the risk and damages of a fire starts with knowledge of fire safety codes, protection devices and staff preparation. Always contact a trusted security provider for proper installation and equipment support.