A Guide for Commercial Kitchen Fires

A Guide for Commercial Kitchen Fires,  Prevention and Investigation
A Collaboration of Experts

This manual is specifically written for building and fire inspectors, fire investigators, analysts, engineers, special experts and attorneys to provide a greater understanding of the performance of cooking appliances, the kitchen exhaust and fire-extinguishing systems.

A Guide for Commercial Kitchen Fires Manual is a concerted effort by many of leading experts in the fire science and commercial kitchen fields (see our Introduction Chapter and Table of Contents) to improved fire safety.  The manual references numerous codes from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the International Code Council (ICC).

References are drawn from:

  • NFPA 96, Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations, 2011 Edition
  • NFPA 17A, Standard for Wet Chemical Extinguishing Systems, 2009 Edition
  • NFPA 921 Guide for Fire & Explosion Investigations, 2011 Edition
  • NFPA 1033, Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator, 2009 Edition
  • International Mechanical Code (IMC), 2012 Edition
  • International Fire Code (IFC), 2012 Edition
  • Forensic Fire Scene Reconstruction, Second Edition, by David J. Icove and John D. DeHaan
  • Kirk’s Fire Investigation, Sixth Edition, by John D. DeHaan, Ph.D.
  • Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation by John J. Lentini
  • Fire Protection Handbook by the NFPA, Seventeenth Edition
  • Ignition Handbook, by Vytenis Babrauskas, Ph.D.
  • The Expert Witness Handbook, Tips and Techniques for the Litigation Consultant, 3rd Edition, by Dan Poynter

Experience Matters

This manual is a collaborative effort to simplify many of the issues that surround inspection of, and investigation into fires in commercial kitchens.  One of the primary purposes is to lay down a fundamental understanding of scientific and investigative methodologies involved in commercial kitchen fires.

To ensure that the material within is balanced and objective, we have had the manual peer-reviewed by a number of special experts in the fields of fire investigation; and the various components of commercial kitchens. We have also researched a number of respected documents, journals and articles; applying many of these scientific principles of investigative methodology to the subject of commercial kitchen fires.

It is specifically written for building and fire inspectors, fire investigators, analysts, engineers, special experts and attorneys to provide them with fundamental knowledge of the performance of cooking appliances, the kitchen exhaust and fire-extinguishing systems.  Certain sections will be of greater importance to different individuals or fields.  Within a specific topic we have presented lists of recommended elements or activities.  It is up to the reader to consider and apply those which he or she determines to be appropriate for a given fire scenario or assignment.  Any redundancies will, hopefully, ensure that several points of view and interests are covered for the various professions.

Fire Prevention

Greater fire safety is achieved when both fire and building departments are involved in the initial design and construction or major renovation of a kitchen exhaust system.  Each department brings different points of view to the table.  This will ensure that all aspects of construction, installation and upkeep are considered.

Beyond construction and installation, these systems require continuous maintenance.  The manual covers basic servicing and cleaning requirements.  There are checklists of what tradespeople should be providing and the qualifications they should possess.

Fire Investigation

Details of fires in commercial kitchens can be complex.  A fire investigator needs to have a clear understanding of the commercial kitchen environment (appliances, fire-extinguishing systems, and exhaust systems).

The initial task of a fire investigator or analyst is to gather the acts using an accepted methodology.  As much of the evidence in a commercial kitchen fire is surprisingly fragile, it is essential that evidence is gathered while “fresh” and available.

Measurements and observations of, often obscure, components can be critical to creating an acceptable scientific hypothesis.  If a case matures to the litigation phase several primary factors are involved in winning over a judge/or jury.  The investigator’s aim is to accumulate and evaluate evidence and draw correct inferences.  This manual provides a number of recommendations to ensure unique and critical evidence is preserved and presented in a useful manner.

Insurance and Legal Profession

The insurance and legal profession will benefit from an understanding of these systems as well as the ‘standards of care’ various trades should be applying within their area of expertise.  The manual will assist in understanding levels of expectations and responsibilities of installers and maintenance personnel.

Chapter Overview

The chapters are arranged to provide a didactic learning experience.  The first four provide a general understanding of fires in commercial kitchen, how they start and spread, how these systems are to be constructed to prevent serious fire incidents.  Perhaps most importantly, Most chapters include Non-Compliance sections showing examples serious issues that inspectors and investigators need to be aware of; examples of installations and maintenance gone wrong, and why.  The final section provides fundamental elements an inspector or investigator will benefit from.  How and what areas are critical to inspect, how to appropriate methodology and conduct an investigation to ensure the maximum evidence will be documented and compiled to provide solid hypothesises and build the best case possible.

Chapter 1 – Commercial Kitchen Fires (read excerpt)

This chapter discusses the general information and statistics fire investigators should know.  It outlines the incident data, the purpose of investigations, the methods, legal considerations and expert testimony.  The unique problems surrounding commercial kitchen systems, how and where fires can start.

Chapter 2 – Principles of Commercial Cooking (read excerpt)

A practical understanding of how the exhaust and suppression systems configured and why.  The chapter provides general construction requirements, clearances to Combustibles and the critical differences in requirements between of Type I systems (the exhaust and suppression requirements above grease producing appliances and Type II systems (over theoretically non-grease producing appliances).

The chapter also highlights the importance of exhaust air and makeup air for combustion and ventilation; and the theories behind fire containment and fire control concepts.

Chapter 3 – Fire Science (read excerpt)

This chapter includes basic qualitative fire science topics that are essential in the analysis of fires particular to commercial kitchens.  The physics of combustion, fire tetrahedron, ignition properties fire patterns and NFPA 921 notes.  The manual focusses on natural gas, grease accumulations and common building construction materials; the two primary reasons behind building destroying fires.

Chapter 4 – Codes (read excerpt)

The IMC and NFPA codes and standards are considered the “model codes” for the design, installation and maintenance of commercial kitchen exhaust and suppression systems.  The chapter covers code analysis concepts, as well as differences between the major codes that inspectors and investigators need to know.  It outlines many installation challenges, installation, construction and maintenance.

Chapter 5 – Cooking Fuels (read excerpt)

The type of cooking fuel has a surprising effect on the volume and type of grease residues that accumulate in the exhaust system and disable the suppression system.  This chapter goes through how these fuels, particularly solid fuels, need to be controlled and how the exhaust system needs to be installed to acknowledge these fire hazards.

Chapter 6 – Appliances (read excerpt)

Different appliances also have a major affect the amount of grease accumulation in exhaust systems.  We review the various problematic appliances from a fire standpoint.  The importance of appliance maintenance and the results of the failure to properly maintain the appliances.

Chapter 7 – Hoods (read excerpt)

Hoods discusses the various makes and models of the exhaust hood and concepts for safely removing grease laden vapors from the air stream.  Cover the different designs, construction and components of the hood, including non-typical hoods and the latest technologies in energy savings and fire safety.  Also covered is non-compliant components and how these can affect the seriousness and spread of a fire.

Chapter 8 – Fire Extinguishing Systems (read excerpt)

Addresses fire protection principles and requirements for fire-extinguishing equipment; an understanding of UL – 300, NFPA 96 and 17A.  As well as a guide to the locations that require protection and how fire-extinguishing should be installed and operate.

Chapter 9 – Ducts (read excerpt)

Outlines how ductwork should be installed, clearances to combustibles, damper and access issues; that affect the buildup of grease and radiation of fire.

Chapter 10 – Fans (read excerpt)

Fans outline the general fan types, characteristics, requirements and terminations.  It also covered the effects of grease on the roof of the restaurant.

Chapter 11 – Service Providers (read excerpt)

The maintenance “standards of care” of Service Providers of appliances, exhaust system and fire suppression systems are covered in this chapter.  Inspectors will gain a clear understanding of what these services should be providing.  Investigators need to know not only what Service Providers should be providing but additionally areas of responsibilities that are often neglected and why; as this neglect can have serious consequences in the spread of a fire.  The chapter also outlines the responsibilities of the service provider to inform the customer of what is wrong with their systems.

Chapter 12 – Inspections (read excerpt)

Thousands of inspectors have benefited from the practical information in this chapter. This chapter was specially created for building and fire inspectors.  It covers pre and post operational inspections.  It provides step-by-step instructions on how and what to inspect within a commercial kitchen ventilation system.  Several helpful charts and lists are provided.

Chapter 13 – Methodology of Investigation (read excerpt)

Methodology of Investigation covers the purpose and best practices of investigating a fire in the unique environment of a commercial kitchen.  It reviews the basics of scientific methodology and development of solid hypothesises.  The chapter exposes the investigator to the realities of commercial kitchen fires; origins and spread, and techniques to preserve the distinctive properties of burn residues from these fires.

Chapter 14 – Conducting the Investigation (read excerpt)

This chapter discusses how to plan the investigation, and how to organize both the investigation and the specialized personnel and technical consultants that are needed to ensure the best possible results.  It also discusses the fire scene examination and includes checklists for investing weaknesses in cooking appliances and other equipment.

Chapter 15 – Analysis and Reporting (read excerpt)

This chapter will assist the investigator in the analysis phase of an investigation including origin and fire cause determination and determining the cause of the loss.  A primer is provided on fire science and the use of time lines in fire analysis, selecting the final hypothesis (opinion) and report writing tips are included as well.

Chapter 16 – Interviewing (read excerpt)

A must read for Insurance Representatives, this chapter discusses what you should do while conducting interviews in the field. It includes sample questions to ask the restaurant management, incident witnesses and system contractors.  It provides an understanding of the words and terminologies that are unique in the world of commercial kitchens ventilation to ensure accuracy of questions and answers in an interview.

Chapter 17 – Case Studies (read excerpt)

A series of real life fires that show what can go wrong and why.

Chapter 18 – Appendix (read excerpt)

The appendix provides helpful glossaries and references to ensure terminologies within this field.  It also provides additional resources.

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