Restaurant fires cause billions of dollars in damages every year. You can keep your establishment, staff, and customers safe by implementing a few fire safety tips.
If you are unsure of how to act before, during, and after a fire has occurred, the following guidelines should help. Here are the steps to follow to keep your restaurant safe from fire at all times.
Preventing a Restaurant Fire
Consider Risk Areas
Every restaurant has its share of unique workplace risks. Cooking areas are always a fire risk, which is why grease should be kept to a minimum during the cooking process. If you store cooking oil onsite, make sure the containers are sealed and kept far away from heat and flame. Also, consider electrical equipment and the storage of combustible materials like specialty cleaners. Knowing where each of these hazards is located can help you better position fire extinguishers and be better prepared if a fire does break out.
Regularly Inspect Fire Extinguishers
If a flame does rear its ugly head, a fire extinguisher could be your first line of defense. Just think, a hand-held red cylinder could mean the difference between a little smoke in your kitchen or a shut-down and thousands of dollars in damages. To ensure your fire extinguishers are always ready to go, inspect them regularly and keep them up to date. Make sure their locations are unobstructed and that the mechanisms securing them in place will allow for the quickest use at a moment’s notice.
Train Your Staff
Would you believe that nearly three in four American adults have never used a fire extinguisher? Your staff may not know how to act if a fire breaks out. Before they manage to teach themselves how to use an extinguisher under extreme pressure, provided they actually do figure it out, the fire might be left to rage out of control. Prevent fires from growing beyond the initial flame by teaching your staff to act quickly. Hands-on training every few months can go a long way to ensuring your business is always protected against a restaurant’s greatest risk.
In addition to teaching your staff how to use fire extinguishers, train them in how to properly use all cooking equipment. Pay special attention to training involving appliances that have open flames. Knowing how to react when an appliance flares can mean the difference between a small incident and an expensive fire-related shut-down.
Practice Evacuation Protocols
Your restaurant should have emergency and exit lighting. However, don’t automatically assume that your employees know where that lighting is or how it’s used. Walk them through a typical evacuation. Practicing these moves before an actual fire breaks out makes the motions second nature. Injuries are less likely to occur, and employees are almost sure to get out safely, even if the fire rages out of control.
Examine Your Fire Suppression System
The National Fire Protection Association states that sprinklers were most effective at controlling fires in 96% of accidents occurring from 2010 to 2014. Your restaurant may have sprinklers or some other type of fire suppression system, like one that uses dry chemicals to extinguish flames. Make sure these systems are in good working order at all times. Consider hiring professionals who are experienced with the model of fire suppression you operate. Many of these systems are designed to shut off the gas while extinguishing flames. A malfunctioning component in these cases could spell disaster. Ensure your systems are well maintained and are cleaned with regularity if you hope to keep dangerous fires at bay.
Maintain Your Kitchen Appliances
A majority of restaurant fires occur during the cooking process. You can minimize the risk of fire by ensuring your equipment is well-maintained at all times.
Electrical Equipment Inspections
Anything that plugs into the wall should be inspected regularly. Don’t just look for plug damage. Instead, check for frayed cords and wires, as these are highly likely to spark and cause an electrical fire. You can also look out for cracked or broken switch plates on your outlets. These can lead to exposed wires and can go on to collect dust and grease, leading to a short circuit and, subsequently, a fire.
You should look primarily at cords that run behind appliances. If you can move them to a place more visible, that would be ideal. Rodents can chew through wires and problems can occur without you knowing when your cords and wires remain hidden.
If you notice any electrical damage to your appliances, have the equipment serviced as soon as possible before putting it back in use.
Repair Damaged or Malfunctioning Equipment
Do you have a machine that doesn’t work as efficiently as it did before? Don’t ignore these types of problems. It’s easy to think you can just wait for the machine to break down before calling for service, but you are only doing yourself and your business a disservice. Don’t delay and instead call a professional to maintain and repair any equipment that seems out of whack. Doing so can prevent costly problems later on.
Separate Fat Fryers from Open Flame Equipment
Do you have deep fat fryers near open flame cooking equipment? If so, it might be time to rethink your commercial kitchen layout. Switching things around can be fun, provided you have space. Keep your fryers at least 16 inches away from open flame sources or at least install a vertical divider between them. Doing so can cut the risk of fire significantly, even during your busiest times.
Inspect Your Exhaust System Regularly
NFPA 96 is the standard for ventilation control and fire protection for restaurants like yours. Familiarize yourself with the best practices, which include regular inspections of your kitchen’s exhaust system. At the very least, you should have a professional service cleaning your vent hoods and ducts every year. Ideally, you will schedule monthly, quarterly, or semi-annual inspections, or find an inspection frequency that works for you.
Keep Your Kitchen Clean
Cleanliness is the primary way to reduce the risk of fire in commercial kitchens. The NFPA states that 22% of fires occur each year due to unclean kitchens. The lesson? Make sure you clean your commercial kitchen regularly.
Built-up grease can be ignited with just one spark and can become a fire hazard that can be prevented with excellent housekeeping. Train your staff to clean nightly, paying particular attention to grease caked on the walls and other work surface, including the ranges, fryers, grills, ovens, and broilers. Have them clean and regularly change out grease filters and train them on how to clean the grease trap. Better yet, have professionals maintain and clean your grease trap at regular intervals, such as every quarter. Use a checklist to ensure all cleaning activities are followed on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.
How to Promote Safety During a Restaurant Fire
If you have done all of the above and fire still becomes active, time is of the essence. Put the following steps into place to keep your building, personnel, and customers as safe as possible.
Do Not Use Water
As part of your fire safety training, you should instruct your employees to refrain from pouring any amount of water on the flames. Grease fires and water can become like a Molotov cocktail, causing the flames to spread to other areas of your restaurant.
Panic is the number one way to make a mistake when a restaurant fire occurs. Train your employees to remain calm during a fire outbreak. By having a fire suppression and evacuation plan in place, and by practicing it regularly, your staff will be more likely to remain levelheaded during the frightening event.
If you have a sizeable staff, consider implementing a buddy system, where staff pair up to put out the fire or evacuate, depending on the immediate threat. Assign roles to everyone, such as putting wait staff in charge of escorting patrons from the restaurant and kitchen staff in charge of making sure everyone is accounted for. At least one person should be in charge of shutting off gas and electrical power in the case of an emergency.
Knowing everyone’s roles can help maintain order amidst all the chaos.
Stay Low and Get Out
Your staff should be trained to put out the fire if they can, but to also get out of the building quickly at all costs. Leave the heroics to the fire department. Firefighters put their lives on the line in dangerous situations, but they also have the proper equipment to extinguish fires of all sizes. Your restaurant staff might have fire extinguishers, but those won’t put a dent in a fire of significant size.
When it comes time to evacuate, instruct your staff to stay as low as possible to avoid smoke inhalation, which can be fatal. Many people perish during fires because of the inhalation of smoke alone, and not by being burned in the fire.
They should drop to their hands and knees and crawl or crouch low. The ideal position is with their head 30 to 60 inches above the floor. Teach them to watch the base of the wall as they go. They should not crawl on their belly, as heavier toxic gases can form a thin layer on the floor. Employees should hold their breath as much as they can while breathing shallowly through their nose using their shirt or blouse held over their face as a filter.
If Employees Become Trapped
If you have an upper floor and your employees somehow become stranded due to the breakout of fire, there are some actions they can take to minimize the risk of harm.
If possible, they can put a wet cloth under closed doors to keep smoke from entering the room. If they have a phone, they should dial 911 and be very clear about where in the building they are located.
If employees have no choice but to escape through a window (and there is no fire escape), instruct them to hang from the window by their hands and drop to the ground to shorten the height of the fall. If forced to break a window and crawl out, they should use a chair or similar object to break the glass first. A blanket can then be thrown over the windowsill to protect employees from bodily harm while they crawl out to safety.
Advancing Through the Flames
While it’s scary to think about, there may come a time when your staff is forced to advance through a wall of flames. If this happens, they should hold their breath and move quickly while covering their head and hair. If they keep their head down and eyes closed, they should be able to make it through unharmed.
If their clothing manages to catch fire, they should stop, drop, cover their mouth and face with their hands, then roll over and over until the fire goes out.
For Smaller Fires
If staff encounter a smaller-scale fire, such as those wastebasket size or smaller, it might seem like an easy task for a fire extinguisher. However, all fires should be treated as though they are big and menacing for ultimate safety’s sake.
If a small fire is detected, make sure staff never enter a smoke-filled room. Instead, they should alert people in the area and activate the fire alarm immediately. Only then should the fire extinguisher be used while the fire department is called. The person who identified the fire first may need to answer questions from the public safety officer or fire department representative.
Safety Actions to Take After the Restaurant Fire is Extinguished
When in Doubt, Toss it Out
After a fire, everything is going to be coated in smoke and water, which can create hazards of their own. Mold growth, bacteria, and pathogens are just some of the things you have to consider even after the restaurant fire has done its worst.
The first course of action is to throw out everything that has been contaminated, including produce, meat, and other food items, opened containers and packages, and everything in cardboard boxes, foil, plastic, or cellophane. You should also probably toss out all spices, extracts, flour, sugar, and other staples.
Sheetrock and furniture should go, too. Basically, anything that still looks and smells like an ashtray should be disposed of before the fire rehabilitation can begin.
Schedule an Appointment with Fire Restoration Professionals
Once the fire is out and all the tainted materials have been hauled away, it’s time to call in the professionals to complete a restaurant fire rehabilitation. Fire restoration services by Nationwide Fire Protection can ensure that your restaurant is in tip-top shape, no matter how wildly the fire raged.
For small mom and pop cafes to nationwide chain restaurants, we can help you get back to business after the fire is out. Call now in Denver, Colorado, and keep your staff and customers safe with fire restoration done right.