When Fire Strikes
A Guide for Commercial Kitchens
Employers and Employees: Know Your Role in an Emergency
- Know your organization's evacuation plan.
- Know where the alarms and fire extinguishers are located.
- Know all exiting options from the kitchen and other areas, including alternative exits if the main exit is blocked.
- Learn how to assist in the evacuation of customers, including people with disabilities.
- Learn what kind of fire suppression system your facility has. Find out how it works and be prepared to operate it in an emergency.
- Adopt the attitude that your kitchen is a hazard area. Watch for the accumulation of grease on stoves and hoods, missing knobs on burners, and missing filters on hood systems.
- Do not leave cooking food unattended.
- Keep kitchen exit ways clear and free of storage materials.
- Understand how and when to clean kitchen hood, ducts, grills, vents, filters and fans.
- Be cautious near sources of ignition like boilers and water heaters.
- Turn handles of pans away from you to prevent them from being bumped off the stove.
- Be aware of the dangers of wearing loose clothing near open flames. Also, keep kitchen towels away from open flames.
- Do not apply water to a grease fire. Do not pick up a pan of burning grease and head for the sink. Many severe burn injuries result from picking up pans.
- Keep the kitchen area clean and well organized. Prevent grease build-up on the kitchen floors.
- Understand the chemistry of cooking oils. Vegetable oil burns hotter than animal fat, so a different type of fire extinguisher is required to prevent re-ignition. A K-rated fire extinguisher is required in commercial kitchens.
- Make sure someone in your organization conducts regular maintenance of all fire protection devices.
- All employees should receive on-going fire safety training. Employers should provide multilingual training and signage where needed.
- Call the fire department, even for small fires.
- Know how to activate the alarm.
- Know the location and operation of emergency shutoffs. For example, does the gas shut off automatically or is a manual shutoff required?
- Know where your fire extinguishers are located. Learn how to use them.
- Be ready to assist customers to a pre-established point of re-assembly outside the facility.
- Learn how to treat burns, especially hot liquid burns.
First Aid for Burns
Twenty percent of all burns treated in hospitals result from kitchen injuries. Most of these burns occurred when hot oil ignited and the patient tried to move the cooking pan. Taking quick action is important when you are assisting a burn victim.
- Try to stop the burning process. Pull the victim away from the fire. If clothes are burning, drop, roll or wrap them in a blanket.
- Remove any smoldering clothing or clothing that has been contaminated by a burning chemical. Do not try to remove clothing that is stuck to the skin. Cut it away or leave it alone. Also, remove all jewelry. Metal retains heat and is difficult to remove if the body parts swell.
- If it is an electrical burn, turn the power off before you offer assistance. Use a blanket or protective clothing before touching the person to avoid becoming a victim yourself.
- Hold the burn area under running water for 5-10 minutes. The skin will continue burning if it is not cooled for that length of time. Never put butter, petroleum jelly, or any ointment on the burn. These "remedies" will make the injury worse.
- Try to keep the victim calm until emergency help arrives.
Healthier Foods = Hotter Fires!
America's eating habits are changing. We are selecting foods with less fat and cholesterol, but this has also created a fire danger. Many commercial kitchens have switched from cooking with animal fats such as lard to using vegetable oils in fryers. Vegetable oils burn hotter than animal fat, so vegetable oil fires are hotter and more difficult to extinguish. If you are using vegetable oil in your fryers, make sure your fire suppression system and fire extinguishers are designed to put out these hotter fires.
- Fire codes require a UL 300 listed hood fire extinguishing system for cooking that involves grease laden vapors.
- A K-rated fire extinguisher is required in all commercial kitchens.
Smoking Materials and Fire Safety
According to the National Fire Protection Association, smoking causes 7% of all fires in eating and drinking establishments. Oregon's Indoor Clean Air Act prohibits smoking in almost all indoor workplaces and indoor public places, including restaurants and bars. Businesses are required to post "no smoking within 10 feet" signs at all building entrances and exits.
If your business provides an outdoor smoking area, follow these guidelines:
- Provide ample, safe-type ashtrays in the outdoor smoking area.
- Always empty ashtrays into covered metal containers.
- Store used table linens from smoking areas in closed metal containers. An ember on a table linen can smolder before starting a fire.
- Employees are subject to the same rules as customers and cannot smoke indoors.
Fire Exit Drills as a Learning Experience
Fire is always unexpected. It demands fast decisions and quick action in an environment that is smoke-filled, dark, and intensely hot. Think of each fire drill as an opportunity to prepare for the unimaginable and learn something new.
Review the achievement of goals after each drill and you will increase your performance and safety.
- Conduct regular drills at least four times a year.
- Gradually increase the realism of your fire drills.
- Conduct some drills unannounced.
- Involve your customers in a drill.
- Invite the fire department to participate.
- Hide employees in the building to find out if they are discovered missing.
- Post a sign inside an exit stairwell or hallway indicating it is blocked by smoke. Make sure employees find a different exit route.
- Place a cardboard box decorated with red flames to indicate where fire is located. Evaluate how occupants respond to the fire.
- After every fire exit drill, document time, behavior, procedures, and outcomes.
- Did employees behave correctly and respond seriously?
- Did customers respond to employees' directions?
- Did the evacuation proceed according to your plan?
- Was the building evacuated and everyone accounted for before the fire department arrived?
How to Report a Fire
It takes less than three minutes for a free-burning fire to reach temperatures over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Because you have so little time, it is important to be ready when you call 9-1-1.
- Be prepared to describe the emergency. Provide as much information as possible about the extent and nature of the fire.
- Be specific when providing an address. Post the business address near landline telephones or in other prominent locations so everyone has quick access. Be ready to provide these details:
- The building name, if applicable.
- The room and/or floor number if a applicable.
- The nearest cross street.
What to do if You are Trapped
- Put as much distance, and as many closed doors, between yourself and the fire as possible.
- Feel doors before you open them. If they are warm to the touch, leave them closed.
- Try to find a totally enclosed room with a telephone and window.
- Dial 9-1-1 to let the fire department know where you are.
- If possible, hang a blanket, towel, coat or sign in a window to identify your location.
- Block exposure to smoke.
- Use towels or clothing to block openings around doors and vents where smoke.
- Put a wet cloth over your mouth or nose.
- Stay low to the floor to breathe the best air.
- Do not to open or break windows if you can avoid it. Smoke can enter through open windows and hamper rescue efforts.
Human Behavior in Public Assembly Fires
Have you ever woken up from a sleep and, for a moment, didn't know where you were? That is the feeling people have in a fire. It feels like it is not real. Your mind tries to make sense of what you are seeing. Signs of fire are often misinterpreted. For instance, during a restaurant fire, diners may assume that smoke is coming from the kitchen and is not threatening because that is what their experience has conditioned them to expect.
DELAY IS DEADLY. The failure to act quickly in the early stage of a public assembly fire is a primary cause of death. Staff must provide clear leadership and communication to achieve a successful evacuation. Research shows:
If you see a fire, or even just suspect a fire, take action!
- There is a strong sense of hierarchy in a fire emergency. Patrons look for, and respond to, leadership from the staff and management.
- The earliest clues to a fire may not be flames or smoke. More often, they are strange noises like breaking glass and extra activity by others.
- Initial reactions are often uncertainty, misinterpretation, skepticism, and indecisiveness.
- Staff members and patrons may meet the sound of a fire alarm with indifference. People assume that it is either a drill or a false alarm.
- Patrons do not use escape routes that are unfamiliar to them. Staff members must direct patrons to secondary exits. Make sure all exits are clearly marked.
- Fire extinguishers are rarely used by patrons or staff.
The Medford Fire Department is here to Serve and Protect
Our goal is to keep you, your employees, your customers, and your property safe. Let us know if we can help you make your business a safer environment.
(Source: The Idea Bank, "When Fire Strikes"... A VideoGuide for Commercial Kitchen Employees)