Fire & Life Safety

Cooking Exhaust Systems

A lesson learned from a close call.

Recently, a fire sprinkler activated on a food service line. There was a review of what caused the sprinkler to activate. It was not due to a fire or a problem with the sprinkler head, but due to misplaced equipment under the hood. An oven was placed too far forward, allowing the heat to rise to the ceiling level instead of into the exhaust duct.

After speaking with the kitchen management team, it was determined that after recent maintenance was performed, they had not replaced the cooking equipment far enough under the hood. Facilities staff left the stove where they found it, approximately 4 feet from the wall. The kitchen staff wasn’t not aware there were requirements to place the front edge of the equipment a minimum of 4 inches behind the front face of the hood exhaust system. Had staff been aware of the requirement, the sprinkler would not have activated.

This incident was unintentional. The kitchen staff didn’t know the specific code and standard for proper placement of the equipment. During the debriefing meeting, there was no finger pointing, everyone agreed this was an accident that could have been avoided if the requirements had been known. After the discussion, it was agreed that a review of all 37 cooking locations should be completed. Additionally, a simple guide would be created for kitchen management, maintenance and fire inspectors to follow. This guide would reference all the codes and standards the govern installation, maintenance and use of commercial cooking systems.

As development of the guide progressed it was determined that there were at least 11 different codes (depending on local adoption) and 12 standards that must be followed.


  • International Fire Code (IFC)
  • International Mechanical Code (IMC)
  • Uniform Mechanical Code (UMC)
  • International Plumbing Code (IPC)
  • International Building Code (IBC)
  • Uniform Fire Code (UFC & NFPA 1)
  • Building Construction and Safety Code (NFPA 5000)
  • Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations (NFPA 96)
  • FDA Model Food Code
  • International Fuel Gas Code (IFGC)
  • National Fuel Gas Code (NFGC & NFPA 54)


  • Grease Duct Enclosures (UL 2221)
  • Supply Air Ventilators (UL 705)
  • Through Penetration Firestop Systems (UL 1479)
  • Luminaires and Fittings (NFPA 96 & 70)
  • Fire Extinguishing Systems (UL 300 & 199E, NFPA 17A)
  • Exhaust Hoods (UL 710)
  • Ductless Hoods (UL 710B)
  • Power Ventilator for Cooking Equipment (UL 762)
  • Rooftop Grease and Oil Collection (UL 710A)
  • Grease Ducts (UL 1978))
  • Grease Filters (UL 1046)
  • Class K Extinguishers (UL 8)
  • Cooking Oil Filters (UL 1889)
  • Electric Cooking Equipment (UL 197)
  • Gas Cooking Equipment (UL 795)
  • Wood Fired Cooking Equipment (UL 2162)
  • Gas-Wood Fired Cooking Equipment (UL 2162)
  • Sanitation (NSF 4 & 2)

As the complexity of the components became apparent to all three groups, it was clear that a matrix listing all the systems would need to be completed. Then, a detailed survey would be completed with a team of individuals from the kitchen and facilities staff, contract suppression service provider and fire inspector. It was determined that completing all the surveys would take over a year, so the group decided to focus initially on systems related to deep fryers.

Once deep fryer locations were completed the team would review cooking range locations (18 percent of cooking fires) followed by cooking grills (11 percent of cooking fires).

To guide the survey, two National Fire Protection Association standards were focused on. These standards address the greatest risk of fire – the deep fat fryer.

Standard NFPA 96 discusses the minimum requirements for fire safety in cooking locations. It sets requirements for exhaust systems for processes producing grease-laden vapors or smoke. It also addresses manual and automatic fire extinguishing equipment for locations with grease-laden vapors, automatic shut-off for all sources of fuel and power to equipment. Procedures for the use and maintenance of cooking equipment are included in this standard.

Standard NFPA 17A discusses the design, installation, operation, testing and maintenance of pre-engineered wet chemical fire extinguishing systems. Most often, this is the one part of the cooking operation that is maintained. Service companies perform inspections and maintenance at least semi-annually.

The last component to the review of cooking systems was related to people-based actions. Any built-in fire safety can be compromised if the users of the space aren’t aware of the basic elements of how they work (the reason why the sprinkler head activated.) A campaign was created to instruct kitchen staff on the basic elements of kitchen fire prevention. It was geared towards changing unsafe behaviors and housekeeping.

There was no fire in the facility that created this program. They used a near miss as an opportunity to be proactive about minimizing the risk of fire in their cooking operations. It was a lesson learned from a close call, versus a forgotten lesson.

This article originally appeared in the School Planning & Management December 2013 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Mike Halligan is the President of Higher Education Safety, a consulting group specializing in fire prevention program audits, strategic planning, training and education programs and third party plan review and occupancy inspections. He retired after twenty six years as the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management at the University of Utah. He frequently speaks and is a recognized expert on residence hall/student housing fire safety and large scale special event planning. He also works with corporate clients to integrate products into the campus environment that promote safety and security.