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Pizza on fire: Fire safety


June 29, 2011
By Tom Stankiewicz

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I had a routine fire inspection of my pizzeria earlier this year that led to a reflection on how important fire safety is

I had a routine fire inspection of my pizzeria earlier this year that led to a reflection on how important fire safety is. A fire inspection is one of those times when you’re better off knowing what needs to be corrected and actually welcome the discovery of anything that needs to be changed.

Unfortunately, it won’t take you long to find examples of pizzerias that have experienced the utter devastation of fire. Almost all of the fires I came across in my research were preventable. Here are a few things all new and experienced owners need to know in order to operate a safe restaurant.

From my recent research, as well as from personal experience, I discovered that when a new business opens or a business licence comes up for renewal, the owner has a responsibility to notify the appropriate city department of its status. At that time, the city will provide you with a list of the costs for all of the necessary applications and inspections. If you require a business licence to operate, you must arrange for an inspection by the fire department, the city’s building division, and/or the local health unit. An initial appointment will be scheduled with all three inspectors to make sure everyone understands what requirements must be satisfied before the business is opened or licences are renewed. Fire inspectors examine every area of the business in detail to ensure it is safe. The owner is usually given written notice of any issues that must be addressed. Normally, you will have up to 30 days to fix any issues, although some violations may be so severe that they require an immediate fix. In my city, the initial inspection is free of charge, but there is a fee for any violations that require re-inspection. Check with your city for current information regarding inspection costs.

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When you hire a new employee, among the first things you should point out are the escape routes and exits.

Regulations state that each exit must be marked by a clearly visible sign. This will help control the situation if employees start to panic in an emergency. In stressful situations, some people forget everything they have been told. Clearly marked exits will help guide everyone to a safe location. Consider running a few fire drills. This will allow you to identify areas for additional training and evaluate whether each employee knows what to do if a real fire occurs.

When it comes to the safety of your electrical equipment, there are a number of obvious preventive measures you can take. Any cracked or frayed electrical cords should be replaced. Do not reuse them. Cords should never be attached to furniture, placed under carpets or run through any area where they will be stepped on. Unplug any equipment that overheats and call your maintenance contact to get it repaired. The worst thing you can do is try to fix electrical equipment yourself. Hire a specialist. A lot of fires are started by improper electrical work.

Considering a pizza oven can cook at 500 degrees, it’s not surprising that an incorrectly installed oven can quickly ignite a fire. Specific regulations must be met. For example, there must be a set distance between the hood and the ceiling, and a wall shield must be installed unless the distance between the walls and the oven meets minimum requirements. Depending on the location of your business, your insurance provider may ask you to install a firewall to block a fire from spreading to businesses next door. The exhaust hood must be installed over the oven and it must meet certain size requirements. All areas must be accessible for inspection and cleaning.

One of the easiest ways to prevent a fire is to avoid clutter. Invest in extra storage room or purchase a ready-made storage unit where all your things can be stowed. Hallways and exits must be kept clear of clutter. I know most of us do our best to maximize the space in our pizzerias, but we should always keep safety at the top of our priority list. If you need to store combustible materials, make sure they are not all kept in the same area.

The final tool for fire prevention is simple: a fire extinguisher. If it’s been a while since you checked that your extinguisher is working, please take time to check it again. You may need it when you least expect it; this would be a terrible time to find out it isn’t working properly. All of your staff should be trained to operate the extinguisher and should know where to find it.

I hope this information is useful. I also hope it mobilizes you to take a quick walk around your pizzeria to make sure that your place of business is 100 per cent safe for you, your employees and your customers.


Tom Stankiewicz has been in the pizza business for more than 15 years. He has been the proprietor of Bondi’s Pizza in London, Ont., since 2000 and is president of the Canadian Pizza Team.