NFPA Impact: Food truck fire hazards
Appetizing enterprises, or recipe for disaster?
Food trucks may seem like a strange topic for a column, but these kitchens on wheels are a becoming an issue for the fire service, particularly people in fire protection and prevention.
I can’t count the number of fire department staff I’ve spoken with who have recounted stories about food-truck troubles. In some cases, incidents have occurred, and in others, there have been close calls. Food trucks and temporary cooking facilities are a serious issue.
As the weather warms up, food trucks begin appearing on the streets. What may seem to be innocent, temporary cooking operations start popping up in neighbourhoods, fair grounds, carnivals, parks, and festivals.
With lower costs than brick-and-mortar restaurants and the opportunity for mobility, it is no wonder that food trucks are an appetizing enterprise. Municipalities have adopted necessary food-truck related bylaws to ensure that Canada’s growing street-food culture can safely expand.
These cooking operations range from street carts and converted delivery vans to custom-made, walk-through step-vans with multiple-axle trailers. Food trucks can even be found floating on lakes in the summer in the form of converted barges that move from marina to marina or harbour to harbour.
Is your department well versed in the locations of these set-ups and the fire-and-life-safety requirements? Are you tied into your health department, parks and recreation/public-events department, and law enforcement agencies so you can discuss mutual concerns about theses types of businesses?
As the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) are you aware of the hazards associated with these operations, such as the greases or solid fuels being used that may need different extinguishing agents?
Do these units have proper means of access and egress for patrons, employees or response personnel?
In a 2012 study of food trucks by the Fire Department of the City of New York several common hazards were found on board that led to explosions or fires that caused serious injuries or death. These hazards ranged from improperly stored or maintained propane and compressed-gas cylinders to high-voltage electrical hook-ups with an overabundance of extension cords, hot fryer oil and open flame grills, and improper storage of non-compatible fuels.
There have been food-truck related deaths in the United States and a few close calls in Canada. In 2012, a food truck at the Canadian National Exhibition was destroyed in a propane explosion. The incident happened at 4 a.m. and no injuries were reported, but had the explosion happened later in the day, there could have been numerous casualties.
The need for proper separation of food trucks at public events such as summer festivals needs to be considered; having several food trucks parked nose-to-tail could lead to disaster should a fire break out. Departments should also ensure that food-truck operators observe proper spacing from hydrants.
The national model building and fire codes refer to NFPA 96 - Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations for the safety standards that apply to these types of situations. The purpose of NFPA 96 is “to reduce the potential fire hazard of cooking operations, irrespective of the type of cooking equipment used and whether it is used in public or private facilities.”
The scope of the standard provides for “the minimum safety requirements (preventative and operative) related to the design, installation, operation, inspection, and maintenance of all public and private cooking operations.”
These requirements include all manner of cooking equipment: exhaust hoods, grease-removal devices, exhaust ductwork, exhaust fans, dampers, fire-extinguishing equipment, and all other components involved in the capture, containment, and control of grease-laden cooking effluent. Most of this equipment is found in food trucks or transportable food vending operations.
As the AHJ, if you believe there is cooking being done for the purposes of sale and there is commercial equipment being used, then it could be assumed that the vehicle is a commercial cooking operation.
Mobile restaurants must comply with the same building, health and fire code regulations as any other restaurant. All food trucks require permits to operate. Your municipal licensing office should have a list of approved vendors that will help fire-prevention teams ensure that everyone who operates these food trucks, and everyone who enjoys their wares, stays safe.
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