Northwest NEWS

February 14, 2000

Local News

Fire Marshal recommends new extinguishers

by Marshall Haley, staff reporter

   WOODINVILLE--Woodinville Fire & Life Safety Fire Marshal Joel Kuhnhenn and his assistant, Lt. Steve Cooke, proposed that the City Council make an ordinance change that would require a retrofit of kitchen hood fire extinguishers and portable extinguishers to use a new wet chemical agent, for all Woodinville commercial eateries that cook with a particular type of deep-fat fryer.

   Fire hazards have increased since restaurants have started replacing animal fat grease with low-fat vegetable oils in their deep fryers, said Cooke. Vegetable oils cook hotter, especially in newer, more heavily-insulated cookers. The previous Underwriter's Laboratories (UL) Standard has been upgraded to UL 300 for the new cookers, but the old extinguishing methods--dry chemical agents or cold water extinguishers--do not cool the new oil fast enough to lower the temperature. That has resulted in fires re-igniting after flames were initially smothered. The new "Class K" chemical agent bonds to the oil, providing a foam blanket that suffocates the flames and cools the oil, said Cooke.

   The Kingsgate Safeway narrowly escaped a disastrous fire last year, when the dry chemicals from two hand-held extinguishers and from the overhead kitchen hood failed to put out the fire. Fortunately, some Woodinville firefighters were there shopping and ran to their truck, retrieving a new Class K extinguisher the district had purchased two days before. That quickly put out a fire that otherwise might have swept through the Safeway, and possibly through adjoining businesses, said Cooke.

   Since many Woodinville restaurants are in strip malls, the imminent danger to lives and many local businesses is very real, Cooke stressed.

   The Fire Marshal's proposal makes two suggestions: give all restaurants with newer, hotter deep-fry cookers three months to buy Class K handhelds and one year to upgrade to Class K overhead extinguishers; and, whenever a restaurant upgrades to the hotter deep fryers, require them to upgrade their overhead extinguishers to Class K.

   The Fire Marshal's office cannot monitor those equipment changes unless the City Council adopts a new ordinance, said Kuhnhenn. He said his office is encouraging the Northshore School District to adopt the upgrade. McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Denny's have already upgraded, he said. Brittany Park's kitchen is considered commercial, and that management has been discussing the upgrade with the Fire Marshal also.

   Upgrade costs are not prohibitive, said Cooke. McDonald's paid $1,500, while larger restaurants might pay up to $3,000, with the average cost around $2,500.

   "Is the old suppression system adequate for older cookers using animal fats?" asked Councilmember Don Brocha.

   "Often, poor maintenance, that is, cleaning of grease from the filters and ducts, can cause a flash fire from only a spark," said Kuhnhenn. The district does not have enough personnel to police every Woodinville restaurant often enough to ensure proper cleaning, he said.

   "Requiring $1,500-$2,500 for a new suppression system is better than losing a business or lives," said Councilmember Barbara Solberg.

   "Education is the key," said Cooke. "That requires three months just to get the letters out. One Class K extinguisher per kitchen is adequate. A manual pull of the overhead extinguisher works, before a big flare-up automatically activates it. But a handheld Class K can work--if a worker is present. Eventually, compliance will be required. We just want to help it along."