In the line of fire

When a wok left unattended in Portsmouth’s Water Margin Restaurant burst into flames in the early morning of May 22nd, a chain of events was set off that could have wiped out the surrounding Gunwharf Quays retail and leisure park.

One of the Chinese restaurant’s kitchen staff was injured trying to put out the fire, but it blazed out of control and spread to the roof. It took 25 fire fighters two hours to bring the fire under control, by which time £50,000 worth of damage had been done.

It could have been much worse. John Waites, chairman of Water Margin Portsmouth, which runs the outlet, told local Portsmouth newspaper The News that a sprinkler system prevented a much bigger and more dangerous fire, and that he hoped the restaurant would only be closed for a week.

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The lead fire officer at the scene, commander Glenn Bowyer, agreed. “We needed to evacuate the site because the fire could have potentially spread along the roof. There was a potential that it could have been worse. What was good was the sprinklers. They helped control the fire and minimised damage.”

Most diners in a restaurant would assume that with naked flames, hot oils, flammable gas, cramped working conditions and multiple electrical appliances, commercial kitchens would be highly regulated in terms of their fire protection and suppression systems.

There are guidelines designed to protect the public — broadly punters should have a minimum of 30 minutes to evacuate in the event of fire — but the only specific regulation dictating devices to put out a kitchen fire when it starts, is that kitchens must have visible fire extinguishers.

The Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order (FSO) of 2005 merely states: “Extinguishers should be located where they can be seen and available for immediate use. They should be sited on stands or securely fitted on a bracket on the wall. If they are fitted to the wall the handle of larger/heavier extinguishers should be 1 metre from the floor, smaller extinguishers should be mounted so that they are 1.5 metres from the floor. Extinguishers should be located close to the exits and within 30 metres of the specific risk they are used to deal with. Wherever possible fire extinguishers for different fire risks should be grouped together to form a fire point with the correct identification signs.”

The FSO goes on to suggest that fire extinguishers should be properly maintained, and describes the prescribed uses of water, foam, CO2 and dry powder extinguishers.

This legislation and guidance is useful, but inadequate, suggests Ian Bartle, managing director of Nobel Fire Systems, adding that he would like to see insurance companies to demand stronger solutions. “End-users lack understanding of the risks,” he says.

“The Regulatory Reform Order has gone some way to better educating end-users and it is welcome that it gets them to take far more responsibility for the fire safety on their sites. Nobel has also been lobbying insurers for some time now and there is no doubt this group has been very influential in pushing through much needed reform. “

Steve Evans, managing director of Amerex, goes further in pressing for stronger regulations in the UK and Europe that will more closely match stricter laws in North America.

“In the USA, kitchen fire suppression systems have been required by law for many years, and this philosophy is beginning to spread into Europe.”

Evans also points to the insurance industry as a potential ally in the drive to tighten standards. “A study in the US showed that the cause of 42% of commercial property fires was related to cooking equipment. Due to the fact that a large proportion of independent restaurants that have a kitchen fire never re-open, many insurance companies have started to mandate approved kitchen suppression systems be installed. In some cases the insurance companies have even contributed towards the cost of installation,” he revealed.

The dream scenario for equipment manufacturers is for the cost of approved fire suppression systems to be entirely offset by reduced premiums from insurance companies. That wish is unlikely to come true any time soon.

“Fire suppression systems are sometimes seen by the client as an additional cost with no benefits,” remarks Derek Killaspy, managing director of Fireworks. “They need to start seeing them as an investment as the cost, both in damage to collateral and in loss of business can be substantial if a fire occurs. We have worked on getting our system approved to the LPS1223 standard as insurance companies are aware of this accreditation and will recommend systems that meet with this approval.”

All of the UK’s leading fire suppression system manufacturers and integrators agree that the best solutions are built into the commercial kitchen design from the outset.

“At present, fire suppression systems are generally the last things considered when designing and installing a new kitchen, which presents avoidable issues,” says Amerex’s Evans. “It should be an integral part of the kitchen design process — the fire suppression system should be viewed as a utility along with water, gas, electricity and ventilation.”

Bartle agrees, and points to the advantages of integrated fire suppression in improving the overall kitchen design. “The earlier we are brought in, the more seamless the installation. Ideally we can be pre-installed into the canopy and have allocated space in service spines to ensure the system is fully integrated into the environment,” he explains.

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Greater integration also means better protection, even beyond the confines of the cooking area. “The latest movement is towards extended ductwork protection, to ensure the fire suppression system not only protects the canopy but throughout the length of the ductwork to extraction outside,” says Bartle.

Chris Prideaux, UK business development manager for Ansul, which distributes Tyco Fire Protection Products, tells Catering Insight that accredited, pre-tested systems, are key. “Always consider pre-engineered systems that have been performance tested to UL300. Performance testing ensures the end-user has a system that has been proven to work in real world applications,” he notes.

Ultimately, it is the best trained commercial kitchen dealers that will benefit their end-user clients most, and thereby enjoy lucrative and profitable sales of fire suppression systems.

Manufacturers operate in different ways with their dealers, depending on their scale, expertise and the complexity of installations. Nobel performs the majority of its installations through dealers which are contracted to build complete kitchens, but also brings its own design and consultancy services to many foodservice projects.

Fireworks provides consultancy services on behalf of its dealers, but also sends its own electrical and mechanical engineering teams to project sites, either as card-carrying Fireworks personnel, or under the banner of the lead dealer for a customer.

Amerex runs training courses for designers and consultants to increase knowledge in the field of kitchen fire protection and ensure products are being chosen or recommended based on expert knowledge. Ansul, either directly or through its network of authorised distributors, works extremely closely with the catering equipment community and has a long list of high profile global clients, says Prideaux.

While there is broad consensus on the need for improved legislation and channel education between the UK’s leading manufacturers, there is considerable competition between them in terms of their technical offerings.

The message to commercial kitchen dealers is clear: fire suppression systems should always be included in a tender, and the end-user should not strip it out as some sort of false economising.The money invested in fire suppression, as the owners of Portsmouth’s Water Margin Restaurant will testify, can be the difference between survival and failure for a business.”

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Firefighting innovations

Amerex Fire International

Amerex has two distinct suppression options: appliance specific or total flood, that operate in conjunction with fire detection systems. The Zone Defence restaurant fire suppression system is a pre-engineered, wet chemical, stored-pressure solution with a fixed nozzle agent distribution network that deploys if appliance-specific suppression is not sufficient. Together, they offer chefs and caterers the freedom to rearrange equipment beneath the canopy without re-piping the fire system.

Ansul Fire Suppression Systems

Ansul offers two lines of fire suppression systems: the Ansul R-102 and Piranha restaurant fire suppression systems. The Ansul R-102 restaurant fire suppression system is a cartridge operated pre-engineered system that the company says is used in 90% of the world’s largest international restaurant chains. The Piranha restaurant fire suppression system is a hybrid system which cools the hot grease 15 times faster than single-agent wet chemical systems and uses 60% less agent per hazard.

Fireworks Fire Protection

The latest Hydramist 15AMPU high pressure watermist kitchen fire suppression system has received considerable interest from insurance companies that appreciate the combined benefits of fast and effective fire control, minimal damage and quick and easy return to work thanks to it using mains water rather than traditional wet chemical or dry powder. Using only small amounts of water in a mist reduces the risk to people and the environment, despite being capable of extinguishing a fire in less than 10 seconds and prevents re-ignition by cooling oil and hot surfaces to well below ignition temperatures in less than 30 seconds. The Hydramist 15AMPU also helps to stop smoke spreading throughout the kitchen and into other areas. The smoke particles from the fire are captured by the Hydramist droplets and the smoke is washed out with the fire.

Nobel Fire Systems

The K-Series fire suppression system is an electrical solution that uniquely enables monitoring and fault diagnostics to provide audible and visual alerts through the system control panel. It uses gas generator technology, originally utilised and specified for the MoD, and this technology that allows it to be completely unpressurised until actuation, greatly increasing its safety and reliability. Around 3,500 K-Series systems are protecting kitchens across Europe including multinationals like KFC and luxury outlets for restaurants owned by Rick Stein and Jamie Oliver.

Alphabet soup

The fire protection and suppression industry is hooked on jargon and acronyms. Here are a few you will need to master.

CFPAE guidelines

The Confederation of Fire Protection Associations in Europe provides advice on commercial kitchen safety for dealers, operators, insurers and emergency services.

NFPA standard

The worldwide National Fire Protection Association develops, publishes and disseminates more than 300 consensus codes and standards intended to minimise the possibility and effects of fire and other risks. Virtually every building, process, service, design and installation in society today is affected by NFPA documents.

FSO 2005

The Fire Safety Order 2005 (enacted in 2006) was an attempt to clear up a jumble of previous regulations, guidelines and laws governing fire safety in the UK. In simplifying the rules, it is widely thought that the FSO also watered down the requirements for robust fire suppression systems.

LPS 1223

The Loss Prevention Standard 1223 is a kite mark of quality and fitness of purpose for fire suppression systems used by the UK insurance industry.

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