All fire systems are made to go off. Every single one. Often I think of my job as playing with mousetraps. Most career restaurant chefs have stories of them discharging, I’ve seen them first hand. The causes are all over the map. The obvious best cause is fire, but they can be caused by a myriad of things. In 22 years you would think I’d seen it all, but the reasons for a discharge just keep coming. Recently i took care of a system where a burglar had tried to access the building through the ventilation shaft, kicked the detection line and got showered with wet chemical.I almost felt bad for the guy.
Regardless of how they go off, they need to be put back on line. That is where I come in. In a system dump all of the chemical in a system is put through the discharge piping. Anything under the nozzles is covered in chemical, usually a solution with a potassium base not too dissimilar to salt water. The duct and plenum get hit as well.
The first thing I do is establish cause.Fire is the most obvious, but there are many ways a system can be set off. Not turning on fans, broken cables, breaking a link while cleaning, disgruntled employee pulling the pull station. The reason the why matters is in trying to avoid future recurrences, except with fire. Fire should always set it off.
If there is food or cooking oil underneath it has to be tossed. By the time I get there generally an initial wipe down has been done and the restaurant is in full damage control mode. I then rinse the system and dump nitrogen through the lines creating a second discharge. The goal is to clean out and dry the piping to avoid corrosion. I also use it as an opportunity to make sure it is operating properly. If there is broken pipe or clogged nozzles it is a good time to get them fixed Links are replaced, caps put on and the restaurant is good to go finishing the cleanup. Soapy water neutralizes and cleans it right up. After blowing it out the customer starts reassembling the kitchen but they’ve often missed the next meal rush.
The next step is resetting the system. When the system went off it killed power, killed gas, triggered the automan, set off alarms and whatever additional shut offs that have been tied in. Getting this back to normal is a top priority.
Tank recharge is the last step. With my operation recharging is all done on location as long as the restaurant has stayed current on tank testing. Most companies will haul the tanks into their shop for recharge, leading to additional downtime or unprotected cooking conditions.
Once the tanks are back up to snuff they are reinstalled and the customer is back to normal operation. In most cases it is an hour to three from the moment I land on site to walking out the door.
Its never pretty, but I do what I can to get the restaurant back up to full operation as quickly as possible. Even though the work I do isn’t a cheap repair, loss of new revenue does far more damage to the restaurants than my bill. I have my methods pretty dialed in and I very consciously carry the correct inventory to quickly restore normality.
Don’t panic! I’ve got this.