Fire protection systems in restaurants

Restaurant owners may find themselves overwhelmed by the volume of information available regarding fire protection systems for commercial cooking operations. The National Fire Protection Association provides standards for the installation and upkeep of various protection systems, such as NFPA 10: Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers and NFPA 96: Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations. Due to the length and complexity of these documents, it can be challenging to understand the basic requirements. This article provides an overview of common fire protection systems in restaurants with recommended maintenance schedules by isolating key information from NFPA 10 and 96.

Exhaust systems are required for cooking equipment that produces smoke or grease-laden vapors, such as fryers, charbroilers, woks, etc. Major components of exhaust systems include hoods, ducts, filters, and fans; all equipment should be ANSI/UL 300-approved. NFPA 96 states that systems are designed to collect and filter cooking vapors and residues, which result in the following functions:

  • Maintains good air quality
  • Removes excess heat from cooking operations
  • Prevents carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Reduces potential fire exposures

Automatic fire-extinguishing systems are often found within the exhaust hood of commercial cooking operations where smoke or grease-laden vapors are present. This equipment acts as the primary source of fire protection by releasing dry or wet chemicals to suppress a fire, depending on the type of system that is installed. Cooking appliances should be designed to automatically shut-off all sources of fuel and electrical power when the fire-extinguishing system is activated to allow for maximum suppression capabilities. The system may also be manually activated if needed through an actuation device.

Class K wet chemical fire extinguishers are provided for the protection of cooking appliances that use combustible cooking media (i.e., vegetable or animal oils and fats). Class K extinguishers should be the only type of portable fire extinguishers installed near cooking appliances using combustible cooking media, as other types are not designed for this class of fire. Wet chemical units extinguish fires by removing heat from the fire and prevent re-ignition by creating a barrier between the oxygen and fuel source. Class K extinguishers should be used as a secondary means of protection when an automatic fire-extinguishing system is also present.

ABC-type dry chemical fire extinguishers are designed to be the first line of defense for Class A, B, and C fires. Hazards under each class, according to NFPA 10, are defined below:

  • Class A Fires – fires in ordinary combustible materials, such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber, and many plastics
  • Class B Fires – fires in flammable liquids, combustible liquids, petroleum gases, tars, oils, oil-based paints, solvents, lacquers, alcohols, and flammable gases
  • Class C Fires – fires that involve energized electrical equipment

Dry chemical fire extinguishers are effective on Class A, B, and C fires, and operate by creating a barrier between the oxygen and fuel source of a fire. These extinguishers should be installed in restaurant entryways, dining areas, and/or hallways.

Recommended maintenance schedules

The recommended maintenance schedules are outlined below. Upon inspection, each fire protection system should have a tag or label attached to the unit indicating, at a minimum, the month and year maintenance was performed, the person performing the work, and name of the agency performing the work.

Exhaust hoods – The schedule for professional inspections and cleaning of exhaust hoods vary by cooking style and volume. The table below illustrates the NFPA 96 guidelines regarding scheduled maintenance:



NFPA 96 – Table 11.4 schedule of inspection for grease buildup

Type or volume of cooking

Inspection frequency

Systems serving solid fuel cooking operations

Monthly

*Systems serving high-volume cooking operations

Quarterly

Systems serving moderate-volume cooking operations

Semiannually

+Systems serving low-volume cooking operations

Annually

*High-volume cooking operations include 24-hour cooking, charbroiling, and wok cooking.

+Low-volume cooking operations include churches, day camps, seasonal businesses, and senior centers.

Automatic fire-extinguishing systems – NFPA 96 states that fire-extinguishing systems should be maintained by properly trained, qualified, and certified person(s) at least every six months.

Portable fire extinguishers – NFPA 10 states that all portable fire extinguishers (i.e., Class K-type, ABC-type, etc.) should be professionally inspected and maintained on at least an annual basis.

 

Sources:

NFPA 10, Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers (National Fire Protection Association 2018)

NFPA 96, Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations (National Fire Protection Association 2017)

The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as all encompassing, or suitable for all situations, conditions, and environments. Please contact us at losscontrol@markel.com or your attorney if you have any questions. The article may not be linked to, copied, reproduced, republished, posted, or distributed in any way by non-policyholders of Markel®, without permission.