Fire department has given ample warnings of kitchen exhaust-hood risks

The Post and Courier ran a front-page story titled “Hidden Danger,” reporting on the dangers associated with commercial kitchen exhaust hoods that are not cleaned on a regular maintenance schedule by restaurant owners.

I am responding to this story because it missed a number of critical facts and contained information that was not correct.

The most important fact that was ignored is that the fire department has been very active in working with the restaurant community and providing them with information on the requirements of the International Fire Code and the critical need to keep their kitchen hood systems clean to avoid fires.

The International Fire Code (IFC) requires owners, landlords and tenants who run commercial kitchens to routinely clean, service and keep up the exhaust systems of their cooking operations.

This ensures that the exhaust hood operates properly so that their fire suppression systems have the ability to act as designed.

The code also requires that records of cleaning and inspection activities must be kept on site at commercial establishments and available to the fire code official upon request.

Since 2011, the City of Charleston Fire Department has met with about 1,000 restaurant owners and employees about the need for regular kitchen hood cleaning.

These contacts have included training restaurant staff members about prevention and safety, the need to be concerned about grease accumulation, and the dangers inherent in hoods coated with grease Information has been widely distributed to restaurants on King Street, other restaurants in historic buildings on the peninsula, and throughout the city about current code requirements.

We have reached out to local professional organizations for their help in distributing this information to their members.

Our primary focus has been to educate the business owners, landlords and tenants about the requirements and offer the assistance of our fire safety inspectors.

Most importantly, since 2011, when the fire marshal’s office undertook an aggressive approach with restaurants to seek their compliance with the code regulations surrounding the routine cleaning and inspection of kitchen vent systems, we can name only one incident that may have been related to an ignition within the exhaust system of an unclean hood.

The fire at Anson’s Restaurant is still under investigation but at this point, there is no evidence that the fire was caused by grease accumulation on the exhaust hood of the kitchen equipment.

We believe that it is essential to give the public correct and complete information about the proactive steps that have already been implemented by the Charleston Fire Department and our ongoing efforts.

We will continue to work on this important public safety issue through partnerships with restaurants, hood cleaning businesses, and hospitality groups since we all have an interest in the protection of the citizens of and visitors to this remarkable city.

We will continue the aggressive outreach efforts by our fire safety inspectors to have direct contact with owners, landlords and tenants as well as developing a more formal reporting program.

Going forward, we will be working with the city attorney’s office to find if we have the authority to impose additional reporting and other requirements related to commercial kitchen cleaning/inspection programs.

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