When your restaurant makes it to the front page of the news, you want it to be for a good reason — not because you just experienced a terrible accident. Unfortunately, restaurant fires are one of the biggest threats to the restaurant business. According to FEMA, approximately 5,900 restaurants in the United States catch fire every year.
Once your restaurant catches fire, it rarely recovers; not only do you have to shut down while you pay for the expensive repairs, you also take a huge hit to your reputation. Restauranteurs whose establishments have caught fire often report that it was the immediate end of their business.
With that in mind, here are some of the top tips to help you prevent restaurant fires:
Install a good set of duct access doors
Your duct system is essential to restaurant airflow and the safe release of smoke and fumes. Without good duct access doors, you are unable to identify and clear out blockages that can lead to fires. Place duct access doors at different strategic points in your duct system, and check them regularly.
Clean your ducts every month
How often should a busy restaurant, especially one that uses a lot of open flame or wood-burning stoves, clean out the ducts? Every month. Use a power washer to clean out your ducts, or hire a cleaning company to make regular cleaning visits.
Make sure your fire compression system is compliant
As deep frying technology becomes more efficient, restaurants also need to upgrade their fire compression systems. Many newer deep fryer models require a wet fire compression system, specifically one ranked by Underwriters Laboratories to be UL 300 compliant. Deep fryers are huge fire risks, so make sure you have a fully compliant compression system to stop fires before they spread.
Teach everyone on staff to operate the fire extinguishers
Restaurants need Class K fire extinguishers, which require a different operating technique than regular household fire extinguishers. As a restaurant manager, you need to make sure that every single hire, from front of house to dishwashing, knows how to operate a Class K fire extinguisher.
Don’t just show them the fire extinguisher and explain how it works; instead, take every new hire out into the parking lot or another open space and make them operate the extinguisher themselves. Only with hands-on practice will your staff truly feel comfortable using a Class K fire extinguisher to put out a fire.
Help your staff remember proper fire extinguisher technique by posting PASS signs near every extinguisher: Pull the pin, Aim at the base of the fire, Squeeze the handle, and Sweep the extinguisher from side to side. Some restaurants also add a T: stand Ten feet away.
Don’t forget the electrical fires
Most restauranteurs assume fires will start in the kitchen — after all, that’s where all the smoke and flame is located. However, many restaurants, especially those located in old or converted buildings, catch fire due to electrical failure. Have an inspector come by regularly to make sure all your electrical wires are in good condition; a frayed wire or arcing light switch can quickly cause a fire inside your walls.
Practice good safety habits
Lastly, make sure everyone practices good safety habits: clear all tripping hazards out of the kitchen, never throw water on a grease fire, watch out for open gas stove flames, etc. Create a safety training plan and go through it with all your staff once a quarter. Safety requires both education and diligence, so make sure everyone on your team knows how to keep your restaurant as safe as possible.