Commercial kitchens aren’t only places to prepare delicious food, but are also a common source for fire emergencies.

An estimated 8,000 eating establishment fires occur in the United States each year, with most fires originating in the commercial kitchen area. The U.S. Fire Administration/National Fire Data Center found in 2004 that less than one-third of restaurant structure fires occurred in an area that was known to have a fire alarm, and less than half of fires occurred in an area with an automatic extinguisher system, such as automatic sprinklers.

The fire service has seen the results of tragedy coming from restaurant fires. A five-alarm fire started at a restaurant in Houston, TX this spring spread to a hotel causing a wall to collapse killing four fire fighters. In August 2007 two IAFF members in Boston, were killed when a fire broke out inside a Thai/Chinese restaurant and spread to an adjoining building in a one-story row of storefronts. The fire built slowly for about an hour in the ceiling with it being undetected by staff and patrons before it suddenly exploded into a fire ball. The restaurant’s air-conditioning system partly collapsed, opening a hole in the roof that fed oxygen to the fire, causing it to flame out violently and punch through the ceiling, engulfing the fire fighters.

So, the next time you are called to a commercial kitchen fire, consider the International Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning Association’s (IKECA) list of suggested questions to help you think about the following:

•             When was the system first cleaned? Can I see the fan? Is there grease buildup? Is there horizontal ductwork?
•             When inspecting a commercial kitchen fire, first check the establishment’s documentation for cleaning, including paperwork and photo documentation detailing the date of the most recent cleaning and frequency, along with any deficiencies the cleaning company may have encountered.
•             The exhaust system is perhaps the most overlooked area in a commercial kitchen inspection. When inspecting the hood, make sure you go beyond the visible system elements by removing the filters and looking at the plenum area.
•             In addition, complete a thorough inspection of ductwork and fans.
•             Look for access ways for inspection and cleaning. If no one knows where the access door to the ductwork is, then that’s a major red flag and can signal perhaps that the system has not undergone a proper cleaning or installation.