chef giving the "ok" sign with a restaurant fire suppression system in the background

So, you went for a walk, and you wondered “If I ever decide to open a new restaurant, how would I even get started? I’m sure there are regulations to follow, papers to submit, etc.”

Today, I’m going to go through how one would open a new restaurant, as well as the fire protection issues and options that will arise.

What we’ll cover today is:

  • What happens before you open your doors?
  • How do you stay legal fire protection-wise moving forward?
  • What happens during a restaurant fire suppression inspection?
  • What insights are important in choosing the right fire protection company?
  • What’s the future of restaurant fire suppression?

Let’s begin!

You started with an idea; cooking and selling pizzas in Columbus, Ohio. You made your decision because you are obsessed with pizza… and Columbus is growing in population (as opposed to a decline in the other major Ohio cities):

Getting Started

The first step in getting started is to hire an architect or engineer to come up with blueprints for your new business.
An architect will develop the general structure of the building for you, including:

  • Electrical
  • HVAC
  • Plumbing
  • and Fire Protection

NOTE: The architect will also perform a site investigation to make sure the soil is ok (and you aren’t building on a dump).

The architect will submit their findings to the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction), which, depending on your location, can be someone different.

For instance, if you are building in a small town which doesn’t have a building department, your plans may be submitted to the county.

If the county doesn’t have someone to conduct your building plan review, then the review is conducted by the state of Ohio.

For fire protection issues, the architect will determine how many fire extinguishers you would need, if you need a sprinkler system or not, and they’ll give you options on the brand of fire suppression system you want to use. Fire suppression system brands would include:

  • Ansul
  • Kidde
  • Pyro-Chem
  • Range Guard
  • Buckeye
  • Amerex

NOTE: CaptiveAire, who manufacturers commercial kitchen ventilation systems, will submit fire protection drawings directly to the AHJ. Details in the drawings will include the wiring schematic, air flow, and many other details needed for the AHJ. The Bottom Line: Working with CaptiveAire can save your architect time.

When your architect submits drawings to the AHJ, the AHJ will want a licensed, fire protection company to submit drawings of the hood suppression system, the fire alarms, the fire sprinklers, etc.

How much will a restaurant fire suppression cost?

Approximately $3500
What’s included in the $3500?

  • The complete hood suppression system
  • Installation of the hood suppression system
  • Hand portables
  • The acceptance test
  • Permits

NOTE: permits are a giant variable when it comes to price. A fire permit in Cleveland will be about $45, the exact same permit in Columbus is about $680. (FYI, the most we’ve paid for a permit is $1800!)
NOTE #2:  Some fire protection companies will not include tax in their quote, so please be aware. Having/not having tax can be as high as an 8% difference!
NOTE #3: Some fire protection companies will not include the acceptance test in their quote, which can run about $200. Sneaky, sneaky.

Sometimes fire protection comapanies don't tell their clients about the cost of the acceptance test

To wrap up this section on pre-opening, the last task you’ll have to complete before opening your doors is the acceptance test.

Keep in mind that you need to have everything up and running before you can run a passing acceptance test on the fire system. The gas needs to be on, the electric needs to be on, etc. Some contractors may try and hurry the process of passing the fire systems acceptance test (due to bonuses/penalties for opening/not opening on time).
Just wanted you to be aware!

The Inspection

NFPA 96 says you must have your kitchen hood inspected every 6 months by a licensed, fire protection company…but why so?

When you continually cook, grease build-up results in a fire hazard. The fusible links that accept the heat, and kick-off the fire suppression system, will not work when caked up with grease. Therefore, every 6 months, you need to have the system inspected by a professional to make sure that if there is a fire, your fire suppression system is designed to put it out.

What happens during a restaurant fire suppression inspection?

  • Nozzles where the extinguishing agent is spread is inspected for build up
  • Nozzle caps are replaced
  • Air is ran through the extinguishing lines to make sure there is no blockage

NOTE: Prior to the now acceptable air test, fire marshals used to make you complete a “”full dump test”, which meant running the agent through the pipes. Which was really counter-productive because anytime you run liquid through black iron pipes, you cause rust build up. No matter how many times you rinse the pipe, rust will begin to form, thus forming a blockage in the pipes. The next time you have a fire, and really need the system to work, it would fail due to blocked pipes.

  • Pull the pull station to make sure it activates the system
  • The fans are running, and to make sure they are operating properly as designed
  • Cut the fusible links (simulating the melting of the metal due to excessive heat) to see if the system activates

DID YOU KNOW: Grease on a fusible link raises the temperature of when the link will fuse? For example, a fusible link set to fuse at 450 degrees, may fuse at 500 degrees due to the grease build up. This causes the fire to spread and last longer! In the worst case scenarios, having enough grease built up on the links will completely disallow the metal to “fuse” which stops the fire suppression process altogether.

  • Install new links…with the date stamped on them (for proof for the fire marshal upon inspection)
  • They check that the gas shuts off upon activation of the fire suppression system
  • They check that the electrical shuts off as well

DID YOU KNOW: Back in the 80’s, it was advised to use a K-guard fire extinguisher before the fire suppression system goes off. Dry chemical systems made such a mess, that it was an easier clean-up if you just used the fire extinguisher. Now-a-days, it’s the opposite. It’s advised to let the fire suppression system do what it’s meant to do as a #1 option, the K-guard 2nd. Why? If you happen to hit an open wire with a liquid, the electricity will travel through the liquid, onto the extinguisher, and therefore shock the holder.

What happens if you refuse an inspection?

If caught by a fire marshal without an inspection within 6 months of the previous inspection, you won’t be fined, but they will give you a deadline to have one completed by.

If you don’t complete the new deadline, a fire marshal can become a regular visitor to your restaurant. The next consequences include paid fines and forcing the shutdown of your restaurant.

Does insurance play a role in not keeping up with fire inspections?

Absolutely! But there are two sides of the story.

Scenario #1 – Your property insurance provider cares greatly about fire safety. Some property insurance providers will ask for receipts for hood cleaning and inspections. They want to make sure the building is being protected as best as possible.

Scenario #2 – Your property insurance provider doesn’t care about fire safety. I say this loosely, as they probably do, but they just don’t put the effort in like the property insurance providers in Scenario #1. Scenario #2 insurance providers will let you get away with not keeping with fire safety maintenance because it’s in your claim to keep this up. Once you miss a 6 month inspection, the insurance company is no longer liable in case of fire.

NOTE: It’s always best to stay up to date with fire protection inspections and hood cleaning. If your #1 priority is making great food and pleasing customers, the last distraction you need is to worry whether or not if you’ll have a job if a fire happens. Plus, you certainly don’t want the fire marshal hanging around every week.

How much does a restaurant fire suppression system inspection cost?

Price is dependent on a few variables:

1) How many tanks you have?

2) Is a fire department (or 3rd party) going to be involved?

Based upon the amount of appliances you have to protect, you need the proper amount of extinguishing agent, which could mean more than one tank of agent. For a 20 foot hood with all fryers, you may need 3-4 tanks. However, with all convectional ovens, you may need only one.

The price for a restaurant fire suppression system is around $100 per tank with no fire department involved, and around $120 per tank with the fire department involved. The reason for the higher price with the fire department involved is due to additional questions from the fire department, and the coordination to make an inspection work with all parties.

Note that the prices above don’t include costs for replacement fusible links and/or CO2. Most of the time, the fire protection company will perform fire extinguisher inspections while they are in the restaurant. This is something important to bring up, as making a fire protection company come out another time for the extinguisher inspections will result in a service charge.

NOTE: Just an FYI, some fire departments are super busy and have now turned to 3rd party companies to visit companies for inspections. They in turn, will deliver reports to the fire marshal for approval.

How do you choose the best fire protection company?

It depends on your personality and company positioning.
For myself, I make purchasing decisions based upon value. I’ll choose the cheapest option, and if I like you, you do good service, and I have a good experience, then I’ll come back.

For some companies with a bit more money (and who really care about fire safety), they will purchase the most expensive options, and will even have their own building manager on site while installations/inspections are being complete.
Throughout 25+ years of fire protection installations/inspections, the #1 factor in deciding who to use for fire protection service is price!

ADVICE: Besides price, determining where the fire protection company is located in relation to your company is extremely important (and a factor that most never consider). The reason is that if your restaurant is booming on a Friday night, and something goes wrong, you don’t want to wait a full hour for a fire protection company to come out. You want service right away, so make sure you choose someone close (and offers 24/7 service).

What is the future of restaurant fire protection?

The newest technology with restaurant fire protection is using a water-mist system. These are called CORE systems, they are built by CaptiveAire and they are easy to install, easy to inspect, and have electronic fire detection.

The one reason CaptiveAire is making the CORE system is to not rely on ANSUL and their pricing for fire systems. They finally want to make their own.
The CORE system uses water from the existing fire sprinkler system, which greatly cuts down on installation hours. While the inspection and installations are easier to complete, there is no doubt that the CORE system is the most expensive restaurant fire suppression option. Here are the good to best options in fire suppression systems:
Good = ANSUL System
Better = ANSUL/CORE Hybrid System
Best = CORE System

The restaurant owner determines which system to install.


I know this is all a lot to digest, but hopefully today you’ve learned at least one new aspect of starting a restaurant and the legal fire protection responsibilities and costs that come with it. If you have any questions or concerns, please let us know.