Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Peter Mulvihill, Epsilon/Worcester Polytechnic Institute, ’78. Pete is the chapter advisor for our Beta Phi chapter at Nevada. He is currently serving as the Nevada State Fire Marshal. We are grateful for Pete’s expertise and enthusiasm to write a five-part blog series about fire safety. This is a relevant reminder about the very real dangers of fires in fraternity houses. Thank you, Pete, for helping to protect our brothers.
By far the largest cause of fires in fraternity houses is cooking equipment. Each year, there are approximately 3200 fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities and barracks that are caused by cooking equipment. These fires produce an average of nine injuries and approximately $1 million in damages each year.
Factors leading to cooking fires include:
- Cooking foods left unattended.
- Cleanliness of the cooking area, exhaust hood and duct system.
- Heat source too close to combustible materials.
When cooking meals, pay attention to your duties. Know what to do and what not to do if a fire flares up on the cook top. It can make the difference between a charbroiled hamburger and a fire-gutted kitchen.
- Never pour water on a grease fire! Cover a burning pan with a metal lid or another, larger pan in a sliding motion that pushes the flames away from you.
- Never pick up a burning pan and move it across the kitchen! Picture the spilling, burning grease spreading the fire across the floor and you!
- Keep a “K” class fire extinguisher in the kitchen. The common “ABC” type fire extinguishers are ineffective against grease fires. Instead, use a fire extinguishing agent specially designed for the types of grease fires commonly found in kitchens.
- Keep your cooking area clean. Keep combustible materials away from the cook top where radiant heat, hot pans or flash fires can ignite them. Daily, clean accumulated grease and films from walls, cook tops, removable grease filters and grease hoods. Besides providing less material to ignite, additional benefits include control over food-borne illnesses (your brothers will thank you).
- Professionally clean the grease hood and exhaust duct at least twice a year, more often if your contractor notices a large accumulation of condensed grease vapors hidden up in the exhaust duct. Use a licensed contractor as they will have the necessary tools and equipment to access all parts of a kitchen exhaust duct system. They provide an insurance bond to protect the chapter from damages due to their activities (or lack of proper activities).
- Maintain the kitchen hood fire suppression system. Popularly known also by various trade names, such as an Ansul, PyroChem or another system name, these are custom engineered for specific cooking equipment layouts and hazards. Twice a year, a licensed contractor needs to inspect and service the equipment—fusible links in the exhaust hood that will automatically activate the system must be replaced, agent cylinders are weighed to check for leakage, and tanks are hydrostatically tested on longer frequencies. Any relocation or changeout of cooking equipment affects the operation and effectiveness of these fire suppression systems and requires a review and potential modification by a licensed contractor.
So enjoy that burger, but make sure the kitchen is able to prepare another one later.
In our next article, we will discuss heating equipment fires.
Statistics are quoted from “Structure Fires in Dormitories, Fraternities, Sororities and Barracks,” by Richard Campbell, August 2013, published by the National Fire Protection Association. The complete report can be found on their website, www.nfpa.org under research reports, or at this link: http://www.nfpa.org/~/media/Files/Research/NFPA%20reports/Occupancies/osdorms.pdf
Additional safety tips can be found in the Resource Guide for the Vice President of Health and Safety and at www.nfpa.org/campussafety.