Preparation Pays Off: How long will your revenue be interrupted if fire strikes your kitchen?

Posted on by Greg Palya

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Three Risk Management Habits of Successful Restauranteurs

Preventing business interruption in a field prone to accidental fires shouldn’t be a challenge.

According to a 2011 report by the U.S. Fire Administration, 5,900 restaurant fires are reported to fire departments each year. The overwhelming majority start in the cooking area or exhaust system. In addition to the 16 daily fires included in this statistic, thousands more occur but are never reported to fire departments. These fires occur in eateries that follow a few simple habits to ensure they don’t become a statistic, and are able to re-open within a matter of hours after a fire.

Brian’s Story – An actual event.

Early on a Saturday in April, Brian stepped through the service entrance of his restaurant and into a mess. His non-skid shoes trudged through a half-inch of water, and the smoky haze that hung in the air stung his sinuses. None of this surprised him, his presence at work four hours before his shift was due to an unscheduled wake-up call he received from the property manager.

“Brian, I need you over here. There’s been a fire.”

It started the night before. Eager for the freedom of a Friday night, a member of Brian’s staff accidentally left a grill on. After a few hours at a few hundred degrees, the heat from the appliance started a smoldering fire in the nasty bits of food and grease that hid in its crevices. This smoldering fire eventually erupted into flames, which lapped at the greasy residue in the hood and duct until the entire ventilation system flashed over. Heat from the quick flashover led to the simultaneous activation of the hood fire system and a single sprinkler head a few feet away. This meant the fire was out before it could cause any substantial damage to the structure, the appliances, or the ventilation system.

That morning Brian could have been looking at a pile of smoking rubble from behind yellow tape. Instead, his restaurant resumed normal operation within 24 hours. The difference-makers? These three simple habits that he adopted as soon as he took charge of his restaurant, and every other restauranteur should do the same.

1 – Make “Maintenance” Your Mantra

In Brian’s case, his restaurant is in a mixed-use development with neighbors above and next-door to him sharing common walls. Fortunately for those neighbors—and Brian’s employees, bosses, and the James Beard Award-winning chef who owns the restaurant—he was mindful about maintaining his facility. He knew grease accumulated rapidly in the hood and duct of his “better burger” restaurant, so he had them cleaned religiously (just 5 days earlier in this case). Brian also ensured the hood fire suppression system was properly maintained every six months, and the extinguishers were serviced annually. Additionally, he got in the habit of checking extinguisher gauges periodically when he passed by.

Brian also ensured his team maintained a clean facility. Empty boxes weren’t left piled in hallways, and bread carts weren’t left in front of pull stations or breaker panels. While cooking equipment was cleaned regularly, this was one area that his team may have fell short in. Hiring professionals to deep-clean appliances on occasion might have prevented the grill from ever igniting in the first place.

2 – Surround Yourself with Experts

Effective leaders aren’t afraid to admit what they don’t know, and eagerly call on the expertise of others when it is needed. Brian was no different, and actively sought partnerships with subject matter experts that he trusted to handle different aspects of his business. Through friends, business associates, and a bit of competitive bidding, he was able to ally himself with vendors who kept his best interest in mind. He also didn’t hesitate to call on these vendors for advice when any issue arose.

When the fire occurred that Saturday morning, Brian realized the benefit of carefully selecting a full-service fire protection provider. It turns out fire protection companies are like a football team: a group of specialists working together to defend a piece of property. Most technicians devote their professional lives to becoming an expert on one aspect of the trade—like the team of linebackers, safeties, and defensive ends that make up a football defense. By hiring a single-source fire protection provider, Brian hired a team that was trained and equipped to work together to solve issues quickly. That morning, they cleaned his hood, recharged his fire suppression system, and replaced the sprinkler head all within 5 hours.

3 – Collaborate with Fellow Stakeholders

Ask yourself, who are the real stakeholders in your business? These aren’t just the friends and relatives that fronted you money for a percentage of your sales, but anyone who has a vested interest in keeping your business open. Learn to collaborate with these people on the maintenance of your facility, especially if they share responsibility for it in one regard or another.

Given his location in a mixed-use development, Brian knew his property manager had a vested interest in the smooth operation of his business, and treated him as a stakeholder. He collaborated with the property manager to ensure the entirety of his building was safely maintained. This included fire alarm and fire sprinkler inspections, which required a technician hired by the property manager to enter Brian’s restaurant. Trusting his property manager as a stakeholder with an interest in the restaurant’s operation helped ensure the entirety of Brian’s facility was well-maintained.

That Saturday, you could say Brian fought a fire without putting himself or anyone else in danger. On top of that he saved his job and the jobs of two dozen others, and prevented his neighbors from suffering any business interruption. Even after accomplishing all that, Brian wouldn’t describe himself as a hero. He’s just a restaurant operator who makes a few simple risk management habits part of his daily routine.

This is based on an actual event, and ABCO Fire Protection responds to countless others like it every year. Consult your fire protection provider to ensure your location is fully prepared. Preparation—not luck—will prevent your restaurant from becoming a statistic.

Guest Article provided by Alex Garrote, Restaurant Installation Manager at ABCO Fire Protection – Alex can be found on twitter at @RestaurantFire, and can be contacted by email at agarrote@abcofire.com.

ABCO designs, installs, repairs, services and inspects a wide variety of fire suppression and life safety systems. ABCO supplies portable and fixed systems and compliments these products with inspection, maintenance and certification services.


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