In November of last year fire destroyed the well known Stuckey's / Dairy Queen / convenience store / gas station along Interstate 70 near Columbia. ABC 17 is reporting that Missouri fire inspectors noted past problems with the Dairy Queen fire suppression system and classified the fire as accidental.

The past problems outlined by ABC 17 noted in the Missouri State Fire Marshal's report indicated:

  • Grill hood fire suppression system not installed properly.
  • Fire suppression system not inter connected with the fire alarm.
  • The fire suppression system had dirty filters and were not covered with the proper nozzles.

These deficiencies, according to ABC 17, were noticed on an inspection of the equipment by Keller Fire and Safety that took place on July 22, 2019, which the fire marshal got a hold of during the investigation. The marshal's report didn't indicate whether or not the business implemented the suggestions Keller included to rectify the issues.

The report also outlines what teenage workers told the investigator about the fire. And their accounts tend to point to the grill as being the source of the fire. An outgoing cook mentioned to the employees that the grill seemed to be cooking food quicker than normal that afternoon. At one point the grill was glowing cherry red, and employees turned it down. Another employee noted the grill looked blacker than normal.

Employees noticed something off with the grill when they were trying to flip ten burgers that were cooking on it. When they attempted to flip the burgers, flames shot up from the surface of the grill. Employees tried to smother the fire with several boxes of fry salt . When that didn't work they notified their manager who advised they all leave the store. A male customer tried to extinguish the fire with an extinguisher before leaving the restaurant.

 

I don't think much about fire safety when I go into a restaurant or dine in at a fast food place. Modern Restaurant, by the way, says fatalities in kitchen fires are less common today than in the past. That's a good thing. But how do we know the business is actually engaged in protecting their employees, customers and property from a fire?

There certainly doesn't seem to be an easy way to check the latest fire inspection of a business. And while some restaurants will give you a tour of the kitchen, most of us aren't going to walk into a restaurant and ask to see the back of house. And even watching every episode of "Kitchen Nightmares", "Restaurant Impossible" and "Bar Rescue" won't really give us the knowledge to judge how protected a kitchen is from an unintended fire.

Health inspections? If your county posts them online and makes them easy to find, it might be an option. While these inspections don't deal with code violations, and deal mostly with food safety, prep, storage and handling. They do deal with kitchen and surface cleanliness. You might be able to make a judgement from that.

Why should we care about knowing about regular restaurant fire inspections? For one thing, would you want your son or daughter working in a restaurant that had fire safety issues? If you're not an experienced restaurant professional, yet you're going to work in a kitchen or a restaurant, wouldn't you want to have that information before you accept the job? As a customer, would you like to know if the place your patronizing is safe?

Most restaurateurs are going to want to protect their investment. Commercial kitchen fires cost on average $23,000.00 according to FEMA, and in 43% of them, the restaurant is a total loss which forces the restaurant to close. I suspect most owners are going to insure that investment by employing best practices to prevent fires, which generally make most restaurants a safe place to work or dine.

As a customer, employee, or perspective employee wouldn't you like to judge that for yourself? I would.