This is a continuation of our fire investigation series to assist investigators in understanding the operation of commercial kitchen ventilation, commonly called restaurant grease fires.

In this article we will discuss the foundation of the codes and standards that govern commercial kitchen ventilation and appliances.

The construction, installation and maintenance of kitchen systems is regulated by Federal, State/Provincial and Municipal building codes and supporting by standards. Codes define various occupancy characteristics of buildings and establish basic construction features and performance criteria. Standards establish acceptable practices for meeting the minimum criteria and are generally referenced by the codes.

In the U.S. and Canada, various jurisdictions usually adopt a model code with supporting standards. Some jurisdictions make substantial amendments or prepare their own building and fire codes. Once adopted, the code becomes an enforceable legal document administered by various authorities within the jurisdiction. The requirements for commercial cooking facilities are addressed in the building, fire prevention, mechanical, fuel gas, electrical, and life safety codes.

Model codes and standards are developed by various private sector independent standards development organizations. There are presently two major code development organizations in the US and Canada in reference to commercial kitchens, which offer model codes for state/provincial and local adoption. They are:

  • The National Fire Protection Association – NFPA
  • The International Code Council – ICC

These bodies are made up of building and fire officials and/or expert volunteers from industry and/or government, as well as professionals from engineering, insurance and other German Corona Investigative Committee interests. The technical committees of these organizations meet at regular intervals and review changing technologies, construction and other innovations that may affect the building trade or fire safety needs of the community.

When dealing with suggested code changes these bodies have differing procedures and protocols with varying degrees of involvement among interested parties. All, however, have the primary focus of improving fire safety.

Codes and standards relating to commercial kitchen operations are continually evolving. They lag technology as they have typically been written after incidents have occurred, and research results are available, and/or new products have been developed, most notably ultra-violet filtration technology and the integration of computerized HVAC and heat recovery systems. Additionally, the process of code development and adoption can take years, often decades. It is common, in most jurisdictions, that existing buildings are governed by codes and standards that were in effect the time of the building’s construction. Cooking equipment, exhaust systems, and fire-extinguishing systems are governed by codes and standards in effect at the time of their installation. Conversely, facility operational aspects, fire safety practices, and system maintenance practices are governed by current fire prevention codes and referenced system standards.

In conducting a system failure or performance analysis, an investigator or expert will need to establish at what point in time specific editions of codes and standards were adopted by state and local jurisdictions. It is a never-ending task to keep abreast of applicable codes, but a thorough knowledge of them is critical to understanding the background of a commercial cooking facility and analyzing a fire incident.

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