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What Does NFPA 96 Say About Fire Protection for Commercial Kitchen Exhaust Systems?

Last year we provided an overview titled, “Getting Educated About Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning,” which you can see here.   Today we’re going to provide some of the key points from the document which sets the standard in Illinois for ventilation control and fire protection of commercial cooking operations, published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and referenced in the Illinois Life Safety Code, and best known as NFPA 96.   (As of early 2018, the Illinois Fire Marshal’s office is using the 2008 version of NFPA 96.)
You can read NFPA 96 in its entirely online for free through the NFPA website, using this link.  We can’t do it justice or give you all of the detail in a short article, but we can try to give you an idea of what sort of information is in there, and perhaps more importantly, to try to communicate what the big ideas are, which aren’t always clear from a document which is mostly a long list of rules and regulations.
What are the big ideas implicit in NFPA 96?
  • Even after a really good cleaning, starting on the next day, grease is going to start building up again in the exhaust system, and that grease is fuel for spreading a fire.  So:
    • It may not be possible to prevent every fire from starting (although we’ll try)
    • But the key is to contain a fire until it burns out . . . harmlessly
  • To accomplish that, the big ideas are:
    • Minimize the fuel load
      • Make sure that the system is designed to be cleanable
      • Make sure that the cleaning happens with reasonable frequency
    • Make sure that the system has the integrity to hold the fire inside
    • Make sure that if the ductwork heats up from a fire inside, it won’t ignite something else nearby
    • Don’t let enough stuff spew out of the system to create a hazard
    • Employ effective fire suppression – manual and automatic
What topics are covered?  This list covers the main subject areas, but does not come close to capturing every requirement.  (See the standard itself for that.)
  • General requirements, including that the system must be effective at removing grease, must be fully accessible for cleaning, and must not be too close to flammable building materials
  • Specifications for hoods and fire dampers, making sure that the hoods are positioned to catch all of the grease vapors, and designed to prevent grease from accumulating in bad places
  • Specifications for grease filters, including their design and making sure that they have enough distance from the cooking surface
  • Specifications for exhaust duct systems, including requirements to ensure that they have the integrity to contain a fire inside the duct, and that they are designed to be accessible for cleaning
  • Specifications for air movement and fans, including requirements that the air flow be strong enough to clear out the grease vapors, that the fans be accessible for cleaning and that there must be replacement air
  • Specifications for auxiliary equipment, particularly dampers and lighting, and forbidding running wiring through kitchen exhaust ductwork
  • Specifications for fire extinguishing equipment, both the automatic fire suppression system which every cooking system needs, plus portable fire extinguishers
  • Procedures for use, inspection, testing, and maintenance, including requirements on inspection frequency and some rules about the cleaning process
  • Minimum safety requirements for cooking equipment, particularly deep fat fryers
  • Safety requirements for recirculating systems
  • Special standards for solid fuel cooking systems, which pose more of a hazard than other systems.  Requirements here include more frequent inspection cleaning, dedicated systems for exhausting solid fuel cooking, more distance from the cooking surface to the grease filters, spark arresters, and special rules for storing and handling fuel
  • Specifications for down draft appliance ventilation systems
Please feel free to call us with any questions or concerns you might have, at 630-595-4242 or click here
Next:  The big picture on what the IKECA/ANSI C-10 cleaning standard says