Kitchen Fire Safety & Recovery

Intense heat, grease, electrical equipment in close quarters, and a dozen people in a hurry – looking around a modern commercial kitchen, you’ll see a lot of potential places a fire could break out. Even the most conscientious and careful restaurant owners know that they can’t extinguish the chance of a fire completely, but taking the proper steps towards kitchen fire safety will help you lower the odds of disaster. We aim to help you understand where potential fire spots are, what can be done to secure them, and what recovery looks like if a kitchen fire does break out in your establishment.

Restaurant Fire Safety Tips

The best way to deal with a kitchen fire is to stop the spark before it catches. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but there are steps an operator can take to decrease the chance of a fire breaking out in the kitchen. Nearly 8,000 eating and drinking establishments report fires every year, with damage ranging from property loss and lost revenue all the way to permanent closure of the business. Proper planning, equipment, and training can save your establishment from joining those lists.

Automated Systems

Fifty-seven percent of restaurant fires are influenced by cooking equipment. High heat, combined with cooking grease and lots of moving parts, creates situations that favor fire, but appropriate safety equipment can counter these effects. Automatic fire-suppression systems are built to simultaneously douse fires with chemicals and shut down the fuel supply to whatever machine is generating the flames. In emergency situations, the shut-off valve or plug might not be easily accessible, and having an automated shutdown can stop the spread of a fire even if the power supply is unreachable. Installing an automatic fire-suppression system is going to be expensive, but not nearly as costly as a kitchen fire.

Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers come in different classes and are made to put out different types of fires. Some cover multiple classes of fires, but the most important one to a restaurant owner is the Class K extinguisher, which is made to put out fires burning on cooking oils and grease. These kitchen fires are notoriously hard to put out, necessitating special chemicals to extinguish. Every establishment should have a class K extinguisher available in the kitchen, with additional extinguishers for common combustibles (Class ABC) available nearby.

Maintenance

Extinguishers and fire-suppression systems work to put out fires before they can get out of hand, but regular maintenance is the best way to prevent a fire from starting. Cooking requires high temperatures and grease, which produces vapors that can congeal on filters, walls, countertops, and equipment. With grease buildup in the room, a stray spark or excess heat can cause a real problem.

Regularly cleaning any greasy surfaces, hood filters, and exhaust pipes in your kitchen is absolutely necessary. Operators should also schedule regular maintenance checkups for all their cooking equipment. Frayed cords and broken outlets can ignite flammable materials, such as old drywall, coal, wood, or grease buildup. Faulty wiring is a common cause of fires, made especially dangerous by the accelerants found in a restaurant kitchen. Exhaust vents, filters, and hoods should all be cleaned regularly as well. Leaky gas lines are incredibly dangerous, and machines that utilize natural gas or propane should be given extra attention.

However, it’s not only kitchen equipment that can cause fires. Normal electrical fixtures and light fixtures can be problematic as well. During your scheduled checkup of restaurant equipment, ensure that the lights, outlets, and HVAC system are in good shape as well.

It’s easy to forget about these little things during the press of running a business, so setting a specific day for maintenance on your calendar can ensure you don’t forget these vital tasks.

Positioning

Many types of cooking equipment, such as stoves, refrigerators, freezers, boilers, kettles, and more, give off hot exhaust and contribute significant heat to the kitchen environment. All of these machines must be given enough room to breathe so that they can vent heat properly and bring in cool air. Equipment without proper clearance becomes easily clogged, runs hotter, and pours heat into whatever equipment is next to it. This will damage your machines over time and cost significant capital to replace or repair, as well as increasing the chance of a fire breaking out.

Fire Prevention Tips

Recovering from a Kitchen Fire

Catastrophe can strike even the most conscientious operator. No matter the precautions, there’s always a small chance of a fire occurring in your restaurant – so what do you do after that? How do you reopen as quickly as possible to minimize the loss of business?

Talk to your insurance agent

Even if there is only slight fire or smoke damage, you’ll need to talk to your insurance company about the process of repairing your restaurant. This could involve a police report, insurance claims adjusters visiting your establishment, and eventually cleanup crews that specialize in disaster damage. Insurance might cover the damage done to your restaurant, but your specific policy might not cover loss of revenue due to the fire, which means you could be stuck paying the bills for your establishment out of pocket until it can be reopened. Consult your individual policy to see how much help you’ll be getting from your insurance.

Many restaurateurs try to turn a fire into a chance to upgrade old equipment – but doing so could mean significant out-of-pocket expenses above what your insurance will pay. Depending on your financial situation, investing more capital into the rebuild could be a good opportunity, but make sure that you can afford the necessary fixes to get back open before investing in new equipment.

After you’ve spoken with your insurance agent and recovery company (if you have one), formulate a schedule for when you’ll be able to open again. Once you have an estimated time that it will take to get your doors back open, you can calculate how feasible the project will be.

Talk to your employees

When the restaurant is closed, there’s no income coming in for anyone: owners, operators, or employees. Discuss the time frame with your employees, since they need to know as soon as possible whether they need new jobs or not. Many employees can find temporary employment and be ready to rejoin your establishment if given an appropriate timetable.

If the money is available, your employees can help repair the restaurant while it’s closed, depending on the repairs needed and the skills of your employees, but consider that even your best chef might not be a good roofer.

Talk to your customers

In the age of social media, communicating with your customers doesn’t require expensive mailing lists or marketing ploys. Twitter, Facebook, and email lists are free ways to contact large numbers of customers and inform them of the fire and recovery efforts. You might be surprised at the outpouring of support community restaurants receive in the wake of a fire. You also don’t want customers showing up to find locked doors, wasting their time and leaving them wondering if and when you’ll be reopening.

Overcoming Kitchen Fires

Fires are devastating, traumatic events, regardless of whether they occur at home or at your place of business, but even catastrophic fires don’t have to mean your restaurant is finished. With enough time and effort, your doors can be reopened, your customers and employees can return, and operations can resume.

However, the best plan is to prevent fires in the first place. Regular maintenance, preventive suppression systems, active emergency response equipment, and appropriate training go a long way towards preventing fires from occurring. Perfect systems don’t exist, and operators can’t eliminate every possible fire hazard – it’s still a kitchen, after all – but careful planning and rigorous maintenance can make restaurant kitchen fires less of a threat.

David Austin
David Austin

David grew up in East Tennessee under the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains. He graduated from Carson-Newman College with a degree in English, then moved south to get a Master's in English (and a wife) from the University of Montevallo. The Austins moved around the south for several years before finding their way back to Knoxville, where they now live with a permanently perturbed Maine Coon named Nala. When he's not working, David enjoys writing fiction, watching soccer, hiking, and playing any game that can fit atop a table.