#401 – Thank You for Fire Sprinkler Safety: Restaurant Edition

Fire sprinklers and hood and duct suppression systems control restaurant fires—and may stop them cold

Google “restaurant fire,” and a couple of things stand out.

First, there are a lot more blazes in restaurants than you might think, as consistent local news stories of fires and fire department responses populate the results. Second, most of these stories have a safe ending. The majority of fires are controlled with few or no injuries and minor damage.

Why? Working automatic fire sprinklers and hood and duct systems play a huge role. And this safety is only possible through the code compliance and inspection, testing, and maintenance (ITM) overseen by restaurant owners and managers.

QRFS thanks these conscientious individuals for installing and maintaining the systems that protect properties, patrons, and staff!

Restaurant fires can have dramatically different effects

In August 2019, firefighters from the Rock Township Fire Protection District (RTFPD) in Jefferson County, MO, were alerted to a late-night fire at Las Fuentes Mexican Restaurant.

From the outside, nothing was apparent—at first. But firefighters soon “noticed smoke coming from the roof thru the exhaust of the kitchen hood, as well through the windows.” After entry, they found smoke gathered along the floor, “mild heat,” and “a single sprinkler activation along with the Ansul extinguishing system discharge in the hood.”

The Ansul system was likely an ANSUL® R-102, an effective wet chemical kitchen hood and ductwork system that sprays “an aqueous solution of organic salts” to knock down flame and cool the area around the fire. The kitchen hood system, in conjunction with a lone sprinkler, “kept the fire from spreading outside of the hood,” according to RTFPD Fire Marshal Jeff DeLapp. And the restaurant only sustained “mild smoke damage.”

This promotional video from Johnson Controls shows how the ANSUL® R-102 works:

There are many other examples of restaurant sprinklers and/or hood systems doing their job incredibly well, including:

  • The 40 North Tap and Grille in Grand Island, NE, suffered an early morning fire on Dec. 29 that started in “oily rags on a shelf sitting on top of an oily cutting board.” When firefighters arrived, fire sprinklers had already extinguished the blaze, and the restaurant opened later that day.
  • Also last month, a grease fire caused by “grease buildup in the cooking equipment” hit the Brick City Southern Kitchen & Whiskey Bar in Ocala, FL. When firefighters arrived, they found that activated sprinklers contained the blaze to the restaurant’s smoker room. Firefighters quickly extinguished the fire, and Brick City also opened for business on the same day.

Many, many restaurant fires end like these, with automatic fire protection systems extinguishing or controlling a blaze until the fire department arrives. Others end up worse but safely—with some property damage and opening delays but no deaths or injuries. But unfortunately, some emergencies play out quite differently with no fire protection systems:

  • An unsprinklered Cowboy Jack’s restaurant in Madison, WI, was judged a “total loss” after an early morning fire in September 2019. Firefighters worked to extinguish it for about an hour. There were no injuries or deaths, but investigators estimated the damage at $2.8 million.
  • Earlier this month, a fire at a pizzeria in Sunset, UT, resulted in about $2 million of damage, with firefighters using “more than 1000 gallons of water per minute … to keep the flames away from an adjacent furniture store.” The restaurant’s roof collapsed, and the structure was deemed a “total loss.” According to the local fire chief, the building did not have a sprinkler system and was otherwise “unprotected.”

Restaurant fire stats and risk considerations

A 2017 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report found that “U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 7,410 structure fires per year in eating and drinking establishments between 2010 and 2014.”

But despite thousands of yearly fires, NFPA reports that only an average of three people died per year. However, there were 110 annual injuries and “$165 million in direct property damage.” Nevertheless, a death rate of only 0.04% is an impressive safety record, given the unique fire risks in restaurant kitchens—or any setting with cooking equipment.

Unsurprisingly, about 61% of the reported “fires involved cooking equipment,” with deep fryers responsible for 21% and ranges and cooktops representing 14%. Forty-three percent of the incidents started with “cooking materials,” including food, grease, and oils. The latter are highly flammable, of course, and grease fires aren’t effectively extinguished with water or improperly rated fire extinguishers. These materials can also build up on surfaces and equipment to create significant fuel sources, with NFPA noting that “one in five fires (22%) … had a failure to clean as a factor contributing to its ignition.”

Thus, excellent fire protection involves having the right equipment—including fire sprinklers, dry or wet chemical kitchen hood suppression systems, and appropriately rated fire extinguishers. It’s also important to keep cooking equipment and surfaces clean beyond the necessity to do it for food safety.

Kitchen hood fire suppression system diagram
This diagram shows the components of a typical kitchen fire suppression system along with the placement of Classes K and ABC extinguishers. Image source: KORD Fire Protection

NFPA 101: Life Safety Code only mandates sprinklers and full fire alarm systems in larger restaurants considered assembly occupancies (an occupant load of 300+). But the requirements for fire protection hood and duct systems are more stringent, covering any “cooking equipment used in a commercial application.” And many smaller establishments install fire sprinklers and alarms anyway, whether to comply with local code, for greater safety, or to achieve insurance coverage requirements or discounts.

Check out our previous blog for a deeper dive into restaurant fire protection requirements and systems.

Fire sprinkler

A shout-out to the restaurant owners and managers who keep dining out safe!

The relatively low death and injury rate in restaurant fires and their many positive outcomes are only possible through reliable technology and fire protection codes and standards. And the consistent maintenance of this equipment is always necessary for it to work in an emergency.

So, to Las Fuentes Mexican Restaurant, 40 North Tap and Grille, Brick City Southern Kitchen & Whiskey Bar, and all the other restaurants, owners, and managers who protect patrons, staff, and property: QRFS says, “thank you!”

Again, for a closer look at the NFPA model fire protection code and standards requirements for restaurants, read this blog.

QRFS is on a mission to simplify fire protection through access to affordable products and information that make it easier for everyone to stay safe and compliant. Contact us at (888) 361-6662 or support@qrfs.com.

This blog was originally posted at blog.qrfs.com. If this article helped you, check us out at Facebook.com/QuickResponseFireSupply or Twitter @QuickResponseFS.


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