New fire suppression system regulations you can have your insurance canceled

Attention Pizzeria Owners: IF you haven't heard about this yet, you will soon. There are new rules that just may force you to rip out your current fire suppression system and put in a whole new one… or face cancellation of your insurance coverage! In just about every commercial kitchen in America there is a "fire suppression" system. They go by different manufacturer names but they all look about the same and do about the same thing.

This is the system that has a good-sized "tank" mounted on the wall and "nozzles" over all cooking equipment and inside your hood and ductwork. Every year you have the system serviced and 'tagged' to keep it in good working order. Just about every insurance company out there and most municipalities require fire suppression systems as well. Simply put, they are a fact of life for Pizzeria Owners!

Wet Systems, Dry Systems, the Quincy Connection and YOU.

Up in the little town of Quincy, Mass., there's an organization called the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). If you are not in the insurance biz, the fire protection biz or something related to one of them, you probably never heard of them. But, what they say and do affects how you and your business in very intimate ways. The NFPA is an international nonprofit membership organization dating back to 1896. NFPA "serves as the world's leading advocate of fire prevention and is an authoritative source on public safety". NFPA's safety codes & standards "influence every building, process, service, design, and installation in the United States…" (NPFA.ORG). One of the NFPA codes is "NFPA 96", which deals directly with you and your cooking operations. This is the code that details the fire suppression system that you must use.

For years, compliance with FPA 96 was the only thing you needed to worry about. Enter Underwriters Laboratories- the Northbrook Nexus. Out in Northbrook Illinois, sits Underwriters Laboratories. "Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) is an independent, not-for-profit product-safety testing and certification organization." Since their founding in 1894, they "have held the undisputed reputation as a leader in product-safety testing and certification within the United States. Building on their household name in the United States, UL is becoming one of the most recognized, reputable conformity assessment providers in the world." (UL.COM)

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) sets the manufacturing standard for Fire Suppression Systems. UL tested the powdered chemical systems currently in use (so called 'dry' systems) on the newer vegetable oils used for frying and cooking. Simply put, those systems came up lacking. The newer oils burned hotter once ignited and spread in ways that made the "dry" systems obsolete. The manufacturers of these systems revamped their designs and came up with liquid chemical systems (so called 'wet' systems) that met the specifications.

The result? Your old "dry" system no longer meets the safety guidelines. You must replace / upgrade your system, and it is not cheap.

Q: When do you have to replace your "dry" system?
A: It depends on whom you ask.

I looked into this in some depth (I even went so far as to get a personal opinion letter from NFPA Senior Staff!) and here's what I came up with. You will be made to replace / upgrade your system when:

A. You make any changes to the configuration of your cooking equipment (that includes adding a piece of equipment) OR
B. You change the cooking medium (the oil) OR
C. The manufacturer of the system no longer supports the system or the service company will no longer support the system OR
D. Your local code authority recommends that you upgrade the system.

I know that some insurance companies say that as long as the system is supported (that means parts are available) by the manufacturer and you have not changed the configuration or medium, they will not insist you change over. But, that view is in the minority. CAUTION: If you wait for someone to force you into this, you may get 'hurt'.

I tell you this from personal experience; insurance companies will cancel your Insurance if you do not comply when told! Once your insurance is in cancellation status it is nearly impossible to get another company until you have complied and then, you will not get consideration from the "first tier" companies with the best pricing.

The "K" Class Corollary And Why Your Hand Held Extinguishers Need To Be Up Dated Too: "Fires involving cooking media (grease, fats and oils) in commercial cooking appliances are unlike most other fires because these oils have a wide range of auto-ignition temperatures." (UL.Com)

You will also be told that your hand held kitchen fire extinguishers need to be up grated to the new "K" Classification series.

The old, 'standard' fire extinguishers found in many kitchens of the "ABC" are not the best tool for use against grease, fat and oil fires. Skipping the techno-jargon (its called 'saponification') the "K" types act like the fire fighting foams seen at airports and hold in vapors, smothering the fire. The just do a better job. These new extinguishers work in much the same way as the new "wet" type suppression systems and work hand in glove.

The Bottom Line

A. You will be made to upgrade your system – period. The timing is up for grabs. My recommendation?
B. Start shopping now. Get competitive pricing…AND
C. Set up a budget…THEN

Consult your CPA – There are tax breaks to be had and ways to take maximum advantage of this expenditure.
This one appears to be in all our best interests. A fire suppression system that is no longer effective is not what you want to bet your business life on. The cost is substantial but manageable. Get out in front of this problem and you can handle it. My standing offer: if you have any questions or if you want to discuss this, call me (201-945-3100). I'll do my best to answer your questions.

Most local building codes won't let you open or operate a Pizzeria without a Fire Suppression System in place!