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Restaurant facility professionals are charged with protecting their spaces from a potential fire by complying with the minimum fire safety requirements adopted by the local jurisdiction. A 2017 NFPA Research reported titled “Structure Fires in Eating and Drinking Establishments”  shows that U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 7, 410 structure fires per year in restaurants and bars over a four year period. These incidents caused an average annual loss of three civilian deaths, 110 civilian injuries, and $165 million in direct property damage. Given this, is it any wonder why fire protection is at the top of the menu for many restaurant facility professionals?

 

NFPA 96, Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations provides preventative and operative minimum fire safety requirements for the design, installation, operation, inspection, and maintenance of all public and private cooking operations. Guidelines for exhaust systems, clearance requirements, construction materials for hoods, types of fire extinguishing equipment, routine cleaning, employee training, solid fuel cooking, and inspection, testing, and maintenance of equipment can all be found in the current 2021 edition of the standard. Understanding and following the provisions in NFPA 96 can help facility managers reduce fire hazards and the probability of their restaurant turning into another statistic.  ,

 

So, let’s use the October 4-10, 2020 Fire Prevention theme, Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen!TM as the springboard for ensuring that commercial cooking facilities are optimizing safety.

 

1.   Consider cooking equipment and exhaust systems

 

Although many would think the answer to when does cooking equipment require an exhaust system to be straight-forward, the NFPA Advisory Service Program receives a surprising number of questions on this. The answer depends on the type of food being cooked, how that food is being cooked, the cooking medium, cooking appliance, and how often this is taking place. For example, grilling burgers and cooking French fries will produce grease-laden vapors and require a Type I exhaust hood to capture the vapors and remove them from the kitchen. If muffins are being baked in an oven, a Type II hood, which is designed for heat and steam removal and other non-grease applications, would be required (however Type II hoods are not applicable to NPFA 96).

 

The only exception to this rule is if the cooking equipment has been listed in accordance with ANSI/UL 197, Standard for Commercial Electric Cooking Appliances, or an equivalent standard for reduced emissions. This requirement specifically applies to equipment served by recirculation systems, also known as ventless type cooking equipment which is addressed in Chapter 13 of NFPA 96.

 

2.   Recognizing the significance of clearance requirements

 

Clearance between cooking equipment and combustible materials is particularly important to prevent fires from spreading. Fires that burn in ducts can reach very high temperatures that can create a large amount of radiant heat on the outside, even where the duct is not compromised. The radiant heat has the potential to ignite combustible materials and start fires in the combustible concealed spaces of a building, thus the reason for clearance.

 

Section 4.2 of NFPA 96 recommends a minimum clearance of 18 inches. The definitions for combustible material, limited-combustible material and non-combustible material are provided in Chapter 3, along with examples of each material in the annex.  Although these are considered construction requirements, clearances should be observed during operation. For example, placing combustible boxes on top of a hood or directly against the side of it can present the same hazards noted above.

 

In many existing facilities, combustible materials might already be present making clearance requirements difficult, if not impossible to achieve. Section 4.2.3 of NFPA 96 provides requirements for clearance reduction systems.

 

3.   Understanding the ins and outs of hoods

 

Chapter 5 of NFPA 96 touches on all hood requirements, specifically hood construction materials, how to construct the hood, and hood size.

 

Hoods are required to be construed of and be supported by steel not less than No. 18 MSG in thickness, stainless steel not less than No. 20 MSG in thickness, or other approved material of equivalent strength and fire and corrosion resistance. In addition, all seams, joins, and penetration of the non-listed hood enclosure that direct and capture grease-laden vapor and exhaust gases are required to have liquid tight continuous external weld to the hood’s lower outmost perimeter. This is to prevent grease and, in the event of a fire, flame from extending into the overhead of the building.

 

A common misconception is that NFPA 96 requires a specific value for the size of a hood. Section 5.2 requires hoods to be sized and configured to provide for the capture and removal of grease-laden vapors. While overhang dimensions are typically provided for listed hoods, based on the requirement in Section 5.2, no overhang is actually specified or even necessarily required.

 

To determine the size of a hood, measure the front and side overhang requirements from the hood to the cooking appliance, dimensions “F” and “S”, respectively. For example, the hood listing could call for 12 inches for dimension “F” when the hood is over a char broiler, 9 inches when over a griddle, and only 6 inches when over a convection oven. One important difference between the non-listed and the listed hood is that the listed hood “F” dimension is measured from the front of the cooking surface, not the front of the cooking appliance.

 

While the hood can be sized perfectly at the initial installation, installing new cooking equipment underneath the hood, or moving the equipment for cleaning and not returning it to the properly location defeats the proper hood sizing.

 

4.   Know your exhaust duct systems

 

The requirements for exhaust duct systems, provided in Chapter 7, make up the largest focus of NFPA 96. This chapter provides requirements for clearance, openings, other grease ducts, exterior installation, interior installations and termination of exhaust ducts which includes both rooftop terminations and wall terminations.

 

To understand the purpose of all these provisions, think about the air flow through the system. Once the smoke and grease-laden vapors have been captured by the hood and most of the grease removed from the air by the grease removals devices, the air is carried through the exhaust duct to be expelled at the system termination. The main principals of the duct system design are to provide enough access so that it can be cleaned and inspected; ensure that it is constructed with materials and connections that will not compromise its integrity should a fire occur in the duct; and make sure that the termination is at a location that will not exhaust any contaminated air in a location where that air could be recirculated back into the building or any adjacent building.

 

5.   Identify your fire extinguishing systems – and know how to use them

 

Cooking equipment that produces grease laden vapors that could be a source of ignition of grease in the hood, grease removal device, or duct are required to be protected by fire-extinguishing equipment that include automatic primary protection and portable fire extinguishers for backup.

 

Automatic extinguishing systems are required to comply with the ANSI/UL 300, Standard for Fire Testing of Fire Extinguishing Systems for Protection of Commercial Cooking Equipment, or other equivalent standards and need to be installed with the requirements of the listing. What is important to note is that in the early 1990s, the ANSI/UL 300 test standard was modified to reflect modern cooking conditions with better energy efficient appliances and an updated cooking medium in the test by replacing animal lard with vegetable oil, which burns hotter. With the “new” test standard, dry chemical systems are no longer capable of passing the ANSI/UL 300 test standard. Check the fire extinguishing systems installed in your facility and make sure the system complies with the ANSI/UL 300 test standard, or an equivalent test standard.

 

It is also important to note that all sources of fuel and electrical power that produce heat to equipment requiring protection by a fire extinguishing system need to be automatically shut off to prevent re-ignition.

 

Manual pull stations associated with automatic fire extinguishing systems are required to be accessible and located a minimum of 3ft and maximum of 6ft from the protected hood and the path of egress. Remember, systems are required to be accessible (i.e. do not have materials blocking these manual pull stations or any means of egress), and all employees should know the location of these manual pull stations as well as how and when to operate them.

 

Figure 1: Blocked manual pull station.                                     Figure 2: Accessible manual pull station

 

Portable fire extinguishers are required to be selected and installed in accordance with NFPA 10, Standard on Portable Fire Extinguishers and be listed for their use. Class K fire extinguishers should be used if vegetable oils and animal oils/fats are present in the kitchen.  However, all buildings have Class A fire hazards and where ordinary combustibles are present (i.e. in dining areas of restaurants)., employees should be trained on the various types of portable extinguishers and how to use them in the event of a fire.

 

Most fire extinguishers use the P.A.S.S. technique:

 

Pull the pin

Aim low, pointing the extinguisher nozzle at the base of the fire

Squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing agent

Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire until it appears to be out

 

6.   Inspect, test and maintain your commercial cooking operation

 

Although inspections for grease buildup and fire extinguishing systems at specified intervals tend to be contracted out, restaurant employees can be trained to inspect this equipment each day and management can be responsible for enforcing this expectation. Encourage employees to routinely look out for normal wear and tear of equipment (i.e. broken seals, missing screws, exposed wires). All employees should start their routine with inspecting the equipment to ensure it was properly cleaned from the previous night (or shift), confirm that if the equipment requires a fire extinguishing system, the nozzles are clear and not clogged with grease. Many restaurants utilize heaters to keep the food hot after it’s been cooked; make sure employees know to check that there are no flammable materials on top of or near the heaters. Before starting the fryer, employees should check to make sure the oil level isn’t too low because if the heating coil is exposed above or close to the oil surface, residue and oil can catch fire. These are all very simple, yet effective steps in the fire protection program of your facility that do not require hiring an outside contractor to perform the work.

 

There are items that need to be inspected that only trained, qualified, and certified people can conduct. For example, the inspection and service of the cooking equipment must be completed annually; the fire extinguishing system needs to be inspected at least every 6 months; and the entire exhaust system is required to be inspected for grease buildup in accordance with Table 11.4 of NFPA 96, which bases the quantity of inspections on the amount of cooking and type of cooking taking place at a facility.

 

Figure 3: Schedule of Inspection for Grease Buildup (NFPA 96, 2021 edition)

 

7.   Emphasize the importance of cleaning

 

Since 1 in every 5 of the fires cited in the NFPA Research report had a failure to clean as a factor contributing to its ignition, cleaning seems like an easy and obvious solution to mitigate fire risks. However, when many hear (or in this case read) the word “cleaning” they assume hiring a company to clean the grease within the ductwork, and although this is a critical process that cannot be missed, there are many ways restaurant facility professionals can ensure that staff know how to reduce the risk of fire within their facility. Developing and/or enforcing a training program for all employees is a great way to achieve this goal. New employees should be trained, and current employees should be recertified on specific facility procedures every 6 to 12 months.

 

If during the scheduled inspection, the exhaust system is found to be contaminated with deposits from grease-laden vapors, the contaminated portions of the system are required to be cleaned by properly trained, qualified and certified people. Once the cleaning is complete, a written report detailing the amount of grease buildup, as well as any maintenance or repairs needed, and any areas that were inaccessible or not cleaned have been marked, the report must be provided to the owner of the system.

 

Figure 4: Unacceptable amount of grease accumulation on Baffle Plate          Figure 5: Acceptable Baffle Plate 

 

8.   Take responsibility as owners

 

NFPA 96 requires that the standard be applied as a united whole. It is important to recognize that all the chapters in NFPA 96 may be working on individual components of ventilation control and fire protection, but each of them is needed for the overall goal of reducing the potential fire hazard of cooking operations.

 

Ultimately, it is the owner’s responsibility that cooking equipment, hoods, ducts, fans, fire-extinguishing equipment and special effluent or energy control equipment installed in their facility is maintained to ensure the entire system works properly and provides the appropriate level of protection. In addition, the owner is responsible for the inspection, testing, maintenance, and cleanliness of the ventilation control and fire protection of the commercial cooking operation, provided that this responsibility has not been transferred in written form to a management company, tenant, or other party.

 

NFPA research shows that cooking fires are the greatest cause of fires in eating and drinking establishments, with three out of five fires (61%) originating in equipment and causing 38% of direct property damage. Given these statistics and this year’s Fire Prevention Week theme of Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen!TM, it is a great time for facility managers to see what’s cooking on their premises.

 

NFPA has been the official sponsor of Fire Prevention Week since 1922. Fire Prevention Week is the longest running public health and safety observance on record.

 

With truck drivers working all hours of the day to deliver critical supplies during COVID-19, the Federal Highway Administration recently announced that food trucks are permitted at interstate rest areas to help curb the appetite of the unsung heroes transporting food, personal protective equipment, medical devices, and other essentials during the shutdown instituted by the president. This timely provision has been a welcome change for road warriors across the US, given that very few restaurants are open these days and the demand for deliverables is high.


NFPA has several resources dedicated to the fire and life safety requirements associated with food trucks and other temporary cooking operations. In addition to maintaining social distance, washing hands and wiping down surfaces, food truck operators should remember to keep propane cylinders upright and secure, perform leak testing on all gas connections of the propane system, and ensure that the correct portable fire extinguishers are readily available.

 

Please visit www.nfpa.org/foodtrucksafety for additional information. Be safe out there!


National STEM/STEAM Day, celebrated November 8 this year, was established to help students recognize and advance in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Females at NFPA working in STEM/STEAM roles celebrate this mission year-round by impressing industry stakeholders, judging science fairs, mentoring kids, developing activities for people of all ages, writing and presenting on topics of interest, and by generally highlighting all the cool things relevant to STEM/STEAM.


In support of National STEM/STEAM Day, we wanted to show that there is strength in numbers related to these disciplines at NFPA – hence the great photo above (which is missing a few awesome colleagues).


NFPA values STEM/STEAM studies and the female employees who are making an impact via their roles in engineering, research, data, technology, analytics and other more obscure positions that cover STEM/STEAM territory. By industry standards our 123-year old organization has a fairly large STEM/STEAM presence with about 100 STEM/STEAM positions at our Association filled by more than 30 women.


We possess bachelor and master level degrees in STEM/STEAM areas such as chemistry, mathematics, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, fire protection engineering, industrial engineering, environmental studies, information systems, architecture, electronics and instrumentation, library and information sciences, as well as non-traditional STEM/STEAM studies (marketing, professional writing, psychology, natural residential management, urban planning, social work, media art, law, and experience in the fire service).


NFPA female engineers are often the only women in the room at standards events or technical meetings, and sometimes the youngest attendees. This should come as no surprise, as women only make up 28% of the science and engineering workforce, according to National Science Board indicators. Additionally, reports show that 80.3% of network & computer systems administrators are male.


Those that work in STEM/STEAM-related roles at NFPA are passionate about encouraging male and female students to embrace STEM/STEAM courses. We take pride in discussing our jobs with potential up-and-comers so that they have real world career insights.  The enthusiasm for our chosen field tends to shine through. Our hope is that we pique students' interest and help to usher in a new generation of STEM/STEAM-loving professionals.


The diverse projects that come with our positions and the NFPA mission are a powerful combination. We love covering a lot of ground as representatives of a global fire and life safety authority; and list the following among some of the “coolest” assignments that we are working on these days:

 

  • Exterior wall/facade fire analysis
  • Understanding how homes ignite in wildfires
  • Animal housing and fire testing
  • Combustible dust
  • Spaceports
  • Electrical safety
  • Community risk reduction
  • Energy storage systems and data modeling
  • Fire, pedestrian, and traffic patterns for Wildland Urban Interface fires
  • Human behavior in fire
  • Using social science to change human behavior
  • Digitizing and delivering NFPA content for today’s stakeholders
  • Understanding the needs of fire and life safety practitioners, and the public, through data and analytics

 

Without hesitation, the female STEM/STEAM contingent at NFPA points to collaborating with passionate co-workers, as well as working with outside parties who share similar interests, as the real secret sauce. We take a lot of pride in helping others protect people and property from risk – and know that we cannot do that in a vacuum. Additionally, we relish the chance to mold young minds who may consider STEM/STEAM studies.


As the photo up above suggests – there’s a lot to smile about on National STEM/STEAM Day - particularly when you work for a forward-thinking, game-changing organization like NFPA!

 

Confused about where certain topics are addressed in the latest 2019 edition of NFPA 13? You are not alone! Check out this article in PM Engineer Magazine which explains WHY NFPA 13 was reorganized and also provides an overview of who’s on first.

 

https://www.pmengineer.com/articles/94153-jacqueline-wilmot-navigating-the-2019-edition-of-nfpa-13

Is your sprinkler system ready for the holiday season? As the temperatures begin to drop, check out this article I wrote for PM Engineer Magazine to make sure your sprinkler system is prepared for this season’s cold-front. 
For more information, visit www.nfpa.org/13 or www.nfpa.org/25

 

The fire protection and life safety systems within a building play a valuable role during an emergency. This includes audible visible appliances and manual pull stations mounted on the walls; security systems and generators; smoke detectors as well as sprinkler systems installed at the ceiling; vents for the HVAC system; and the elevator recall. However, a single system isn’t exclusively capable of detecting, notifying, suppressing and ensuring the safe egress of building occupants, or allowing first responders to effectively do their jobs. All systems depend on “shaking hands” to collectively ensure life safety.

 

While it’s well understood that these systems need to be individually tested, integrated systems testing – that is, a process for testing all systems together to ensure that they coordinate with one another – is far less recognized or conducted. NFPA 4, Standard for Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Testing, is a new standard (issued in 2015) that works to fill that gap. It defines an integrated systems test as a test performed on fire protection and life safety systems, confirming that operation, interaction, and coordination of multiple individual systems perform their intended function.


NFPA has launched a free online micro-training, explaining what integrated systems testing entails and an overview of the requirements and guidelines in NFPA 4.

 

In the months ahead, NFPA will be hosting instructor-led NFPA 4 trainings in select cities throughout the U.S., offering a deeper dive into integrated systems testing. Following are dates and locations of upcoming trainings:

  • Nashville, TN – May 17
  • San Francisco, CA – July 17
  • Charlotte, NC – September 13

 

For starters, get educated on NFPA 4 by taking our free online micro-training.

 

Mobile cooking operations have been gaining popularity in recent years and the fire safety regulations are finally catching up! This presentation highlights the recent incidents that caused concern and the development of fire safety requirements for mobile cooking operations to address potential hazards.

 

Last week Kristin Bigda — Principal Engineer and Staff Liason for NFPA 1 — covered this topic during my NFPA Live, an exclusive for NFPA Members. During the live event we got this follow-up question. Since you are a registered user on Xchange I'm now sharing it with you. I hope you find some value in it.

 

We also have a free downloadable food truck fact sheet that covers some of this same information. Download this fact sheet, and print it out. It is intended to help advance safety of mobile and temporary cooking operations.


Jacqueline Wilmot is a Fire Protection Engineer at NFPA and Staff Liason for NFPA 96. NFPA Live is an interactive video series in which members of NFPA staff address some of the most frequent topics they receive through the Member's Only Technical Question service. If you are currently an NFPA Member you can view the entire video by following this link. If you're not currently a member, join today!

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