If you own or operate a restaurant, you almost certainly have a fire suppression system, or Ansul system as many people still commonly refer to them as. There are restaurant fires every day in this county and we are very fortunate to have this technology.
As the president of the largest fire protection company in Ohio (Silco Fire & Security), I thought I would share some of the most common causes we see of these systems not extinguishing a fire effectively, as well as some simple things you can do to reduce cost and liability. Silco has 5 full service offices covering Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Akron, and Cleveland and we have a good sense of the restaurant fire protection market across the majority of Ohio for which these recommendations are based.
(1) Wire your exhaust fan to turn on automatically when you turn on your cooking appliances.
I cannot tell you how many costly false system discharges we have responded to over the years, caused by someone turning on a cooking appliance and forgetting to turn on the exhaust fan. Fire suppression systems are designed to automatically activate when a system detector reaches a specified temperature. Without the exhaust fan running, heat builds up, sets off one of these detectors, and discharges the system.
(2) Keep Your Cooking Equipment Under the Hood and In Its Designated Place.
Fire suppressions systems are carefully designed based on your specific cooking equipment and the placement of the equipment. If you change an appliance or move an appliance even by a small amount, your fire system may not extinguish a fire. Although all fire suppression nozzles look alike, they are not. Flow rates and spray patterns substantially vary from nozzle to nozzle even though the nozzle looks the same to the untrained eye. These nozzles also have specific positioning and aiming requirements. 3 simple things I suggest you consider:
- Have your fire protection company (hopefully Silco) install floor tracks to keep your equipment in its designated location.
- Cooking equipment is required to be at least 6 inches inside the perimeter of the hood. If you ever see your equipment closer to the perimeter than 6 inches and especially if the equipment is ever outside the perimeter of the hood, move your equipment back to where it belongs. You are cooking without protection and a fire getting outside of the hood area is very dangerous.
- If you are upgrading, changing, or adding cooking equipment, call your fire protection vendor before you do it so you do not compromise the effectiveness of your system.
(3) In the event of a fire, activate the fire suppression system before using a hand portable fire extinguisher.
When the system is activated the electric and gas feeding the appliances are automatically shut off, which reduces the risk for re-ignition after initial extinguishment. Cooking oils have an “auto-ignition” temperature, meaning that once the oil reaches that temperature it can ignite without a spark or flame. In the event of a fire, if you were to use the hand portable extinguisher first, there is a strong possibility the fire will re-ignite with the fuel source still being active. Now your K Class fire extinguisher is empty which is the back up to the fire system. Above your K Class fire extinguishers, fire code requires a sign with instructions to activate the system first. It is part of our company’s semi-annual inspection procedure to check that this sign is present, but it is probably a good idea for you to check yourself and familiarize your employees with it.
(4) Keep Nozzles Caps on Fire Suppression Nozzles to Avoid Clogged Nozzles/Piping.
Fire code now requires most brands of systems to be “puff tested” semi-annually to verify piping and nozzles are not clogged. The process involves puffing a small amount of nitrogen through the agent distribution piping. I will be honest and tell you that this was not always part of Silco’s semi-annual inspection procedure. However, we do it religiously now on every semi-annual inspection. When we first implemented this policy, it was frightening how many systems were clogged. At last year’s trade conference, the room was surveyed for who “puff tests” their systems. The show of hands was small. I believe the discussions that followed this informal survey were eye opening to many and I am hopeful that more companies are following this important procedure.
When nozzle caps are not in place, grease latent vapors can enter the nozzle and piping network and as the vapor cools, the grease attaches itself to the metal of the nozzles/piping. We have taken over accounts where the grease has been baked into the nozzles and or piping over years and we have to replace a substantial portion of piping and nozzles to ensure functionality.
Two things you can do are:
- Ensure your vendor “puff tests” your system semi-annually. If they don’t give us a call.
- Train your employees to ensure nozzle caps are always in place. I can’t tell you how often I walk into a restaurant and there are nozzle caps dangling or missing all together.
(5) Reduce your liability by using an authorized distributor to service your fire suppression system.
Although people commonly refer to fire suppression systems as Ansul systems (just like tissues are referred to as Kleenex), there are brands of fire systems other than Ansul. Most brands will reduce or disclaim liability if you are not using a factory trained and authorized distributor to service your system. Looking at the Ansul brand for example, Silco is the largest Ansul distributor in Ohio, although we are a distributor of other brands as well. Admittedly there are on average 1-3 other Ansul distributors in most Ohio cities. If you have an Ansul brand system, make sure you are using Silco or one of these other distributors. As a distributor, all of our technicians are trained and certified by Ansul, they all have the current Ansul manuals, and receive the latest critical product bulletins.
(6) If your system is not UL 300 compliant, seriously consider upgrading your system.
UL 300 is a bit involved and deserves its own article. Stay tuned for a future article to address this important topic in detail. In the meantime, if you have questions about UL 300, any other fire protection or security topics, feel free to contact us.