Learning from Loss: Cooking Equipment Fires

FIRE! This is a word you never want to hear in your business and it is the call in the night you never want to get. Best scenario is no one is hurt and it is only property damage, but even then it will still be devastating to your business. The investigation to determine the cause of the fire can go on for months and the clean-up from even a small fire may take several days and require a business shut down. In addition to the fire damage there will also be smoke and water damage that can extend out some distance from the original location of the fire.

The best response is to prevent the fire before it starts, so where do we begin?

To find out where to begin, I asked for help from one of Society’s experts, Subrogation Specialist Kristina Huber, CPCU, AIC, CSRP. A study of fires that have occurred to Society Insurance customers during 2011, 2012 and 2013 showed the following trends:

As you can see, the most common fires were related to cooking equipment and electrical.

Video: Best Methods for Stopping Cooking Equipment Fires

Cooking Equipment

For this three-year period, cooking equipment fires cost Society Insurance in excess of $5.4 million. Kristy’s investigations revealed the following on how cooking equipment can cause a fire…

41% of the fires were caused by the equipment itself because of:
•  Failed or wore out equipment parts due to age.
•  Poor or improper maintenance. Are your repairs always done by a qualified technician?
•  Equipment located too close to a combustible wall. Portable and fixed equipment have clearance distances in relation to other combustibles that must be followed.

39% of the fires were caused in-house because:
•  Food was cooking and left unattended.
•  Grease was allowed to build up inside deep fryers, on the floor, or on the walls around cooking equipment.
•  Kitchen exhaust filters and hoods were not properly cleaned or not cleaned consistently. The exhaust hoods for commercial cooking must be cleaned every six months. This cleaning includes not only the hood, but the duct work from the hood to where it exits the building, as well as the fan. The filters in the hood must be cleaned more often, sometimes as often as nightly depending on your type of cooking. The filters must also be the correct size baffle filters for your hood so they completely fill the hood’s filter cavity.
•  Cooking equipment that should have been shut off before everyone goes home was left on. Consider creating a closing checklist to make sure everything that should be done is completed before the last employee leaves.

20% of fires were caused by tenants. This pertains to rental properties, including apartment buildings, where the tenant left something unattended on the stove, and could also include careless use of smoking materials. For apartment buildings, the installation and proper functioning of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms is not just state law, it can mean life or death for tenants and visitors.

Most commercial cooking installations require a built-in fire suppression system (ANSUL is one brand of fire suppression system) and these systems must be professionally inspected and tagged every six months. In addition, the fire suppression nozzles must be properly aimed or aligned with the cooking equipment they are protecting. If any of your equipment is on wheels, make sure it is put back in the correct location after moving – this can be critical to the system’s ability to suppress a fire. Lastly, the fire suppression system must be certified as UL 300 or a UL 300 compliant system. A UL 300 wet chemical system is the only system currently accepted by Society Insurance and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) NFPA 96, Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations, for use in commercial kitchens. For more information on eliminating restaurant fires, download this free whitepaper.

While cooking equipment was the leading cause of “cooking” fires, other sources of kitchen fires include:
•  Grease-soaked towels and linens that were not stored in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid and led to spontaneous combustion.
•  Improper use of solid fuel, like a wood-fired meat smoker or wood-fired cooking appliance. For more information on minimizing the fire and health risks associated with solid fuel cooking, download this free whitepaper.

Society’s Risk Control Library has a series of free one page handouts that can be used to train your staff on many aspects of kitchen safety including fire safety.  These include information on Automatic Extinguishing Systems, Class K Fire Extinguishers, UL 300, Kitchen Exhaust Hoods, Safe Handling of Fabrics, Rags & Linens, and more.

Next week, we will explore the common causes of electrical fires and important prevention tips.

-Tim Hoffmann


Tim has broad experience working with manufacturers, school districts, distributors, service industries, municipalities and the hospitality industry. He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP), holds the Associate Loss Control Management (ALCM) designation, and is a Professional Member of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

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