fire safety in commercial kitchens

Fire Safety in Commercial Kitchens

Fire safety in commercial kitchens is mandated by code. It makes sense simply from a practical standpoint to embrace fire safety to preserve life and prevent property loss. A quick overview of the leading cause of fires in restaurants’ ventilation systems is presented here. In addition, why do they happen, and are they preventable?

According to NFPA – National Fire Protection Association

  • During 2010-2014, an estimated average of 7,410 structure fires in eating and drinking establishments were reported to U.S. fire departments per year.
  • These fires caused annual losses of three civilian deaths, 110 civilian injuries, and $165 million in direct property damage.
  • Cooking equipment is the leading cause of these fires (61% of incidents). Electrical distribution and lighting equipment, and heating equipment each accounted for 9% of fires.
  • Cooking materials were the item first ignited in 43% of the fires in eating and drinking establishments.
  • Seven out of ten (68%) fires in eating and drinking establishments stay relatively small and do not spread beyond the origin object.

Fire protection code (NFPA 96) requires any cooking equipment that produces grease-laden vapors to be equipped with a Type I hood and a fire extinguishing system. These systems are most commonly activated automatically by using fusible links in the exhaust plenum and have a manual release that can also be used by staff in the area.

Routine inspection for grease build-up, regular cleaning of hoods and exhaust ductwork is required

Table 11.4 from NFPA 96

Despite all these safety measures, fires in restaurants still occur. Accidental discharges of fire suppression systems also happen, and they may also cause significant revenue loss for restaurants.

The situation can be improved and reduce the risk of fires and accidental discharges of fire suppression systems by introducing a 24/7 electronic fire monitoring system. A new fire monitoring system is watching cooking equipment under the hood in real-time. It uses a combination of thermal imaging and exhaust air temperature sensors to detect fires and can distinguish fires from flare-ups that may cause accidental fire discharge. A fire monitoring system does not replace the fire suppression system with fusible links, it instead provides an early warning for an operator that fire probability is very high, or a flare-up may cause a fire suppression system to be activated. Fire monitoring can be configured to disconnect power to cooking equipment if no action is taken.

With these Fire monitoring systems, thermal imaging is the system’s eyes, and temperature sensors are its ears. The system uses its eyes to monitor what’s happening on the surface of each piece of cooking equipment in real-time. The system is connected to an IoT platform, data is collected and stored in a safe off-site cloud environment. Each system is equipped with one or several controllers that collect data from multiple sensors and analyze it per pre-defined algorithm, calculate fire risk factors and generate warning signals. All this is done on-site. Simultaneously data and alarms are communicated and stored on the cloud. Historical data collected on the cloud is analyzed, compared to data from other sites with similar cooking equipment layouts.

If needed, Fire monitoring system algorithms can be adjusted for a given site—an example of how data analytics works. The restaurant uses a charcoal grill. It takes about 30 minutes to fire-up briquettes and get the grill to a temperature. One sluggish employee being late to work accelerated the process, adding more fuel to save time. Eventually, it resulted in a fire. Observing temperature profiles and thermal imaging in time can identify anomalies that can lead to fire and prevent it from happening. Having historical temperature data for a given site will also help select fusible link temperatures for the fire suppression system more accurately.  

For fire safety in commercial kitchens, fire monitoring systems show great promise. Since they are new technology, time will tell how much fire monitoring systems help reduce the fire risk; we’ll need several years of data. Unfortunately, fires can’t be eliminated, there is always a human factor (NFPA reports that 2% of fires are intentional), and a 100% effective fire prevention system doesn’t exist yet. Think about the value collected data will have to understand an unfortunate fire better and, most importantly, develop measures to prevent it. Fire monitoring systems will record where (the appliance) and when the fire started, how it originated, when the fire suppression system was discharged. These fire monitoring systems are akin to a “Kitchen Black Box”. As in the case of a black airplane box, Fire monitoring systems will record data helping to understand an accident better and help develop measures to prevent it in the future. Unlike in the black airplane box, you don’t need to search for a physical box because even if fire monitoring systems controllers and sensors are destroyed in a fire, all the data is backed-up and safely stored on a cloud. In that respect, we do believe Fire monitoring systems can be a game-changer.

As a duct grease fire preventive measure, the monitoring system can be equipped with electronic grease deposition sensors. Several sensors are installed inside grease ducts, and they measure the thickness of grease film and will generate a signal when the duct is due for a cleaning.

Understanding the root cause of commercial kitchen fires with supported data will further enhance safety measures and minimize loss of life and property damage.

Should you require help selecting a fire monitoring system, the experts who manufacture these types of systems can guide you on the proper selection needed to meet your requirements.

Read another article relating to fire protection – What are the fire suppression requirements for a shared or manifold duct system?

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3 responses to “Fire Safety in Commercial Kitchens”

  1. Steve Brown Avatar
    Steve Brown

    Interesting article. For muti-site chain operations this data could provide early warning of exhaust fan or HVAC failures. Can you add space pressure to data monitored? Grease duct sensors installed in concealed duct sections, those that require cleaning access through duct access doors, would certainly add value for the operator and provide added fire safety. Also, for these systems with concealed duct sensing temperature at exhaust fan would provide early warning of duct fire issues.
    PS the article link for product data opens the Halton Sentinel web page.

    1. Halton Avatar

      Hi Steve, thank you for your question.
      An additional sensor, such as an IEQ sensor with atmospheric pressure capability, would need to be added. Grease duct sensors are recommended to be installed at access points for serviceability. Cleaning occurs when the duct is washed, and the sensor would reset. The detection takes place near the source of fire warning systems, principally the cooking surface and hood plenum.

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