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Fire Suppression Systems vs. Fire Extinguishers ~ Which do I need?


Recently, we were asked by one our Greater Lehigh Valley Mobile Food truck members at about fire suppression systems. The question was as follows: “Do we need to have a fire suppression system installed in our truck or will fire extinguishers be enough?”

Having just met with our Kistler O’Brien rep about our annual suppression system inspection, I thankfully had an answer for her. Fire suppression systems are not a requirement in our area, per se, but you must have K-type extinguishers if you have open flame like commercial propane grills or fryers. K-type have wet suppression chemicals that act as a blanket on grease fires vs. dry suppression systems, which are no longer acceptable by national standards for grease/oil cooking. Dry suppression extinguishers are typically those small, fairly inexpensive 2.5lb extinguishers like in Home Depot (e.g., Kiddie brand) that you can buy for most home kitchens. These dry type are not sufficient for city fire marshals if you have any open flame or oil/grease cooking here. The dry types are typically also used for paper fires because the fire is not as hot and is not the hot grease-based fires that are typical in commercial kitchens.

INSPECTIONS: Note that fire suppression hood or extinguisher systems typically need to be inspected and serviced twice a year, but for food trucks that have a limited season in the Northeast (~ 6 months), once a year is generally sufficient – be sure to make this point clear to the inspector. In the Greater Lehigh Valley, each city has its own standards, so it will vary depending on the inspector. For example, Bethlehem definitely requires K-type extinguishers or suppression systems for every event and charge $51 per event for their inspection. We’ve never been fire inspected by any other city or town in our area, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t inspect at events/locations in the future, so it’s best to follow the national standards and have the K-type extinguishers or hood fire suppression system for your mobile food business.

COST: Fire suppression hood systems cost more upfront (approximately $200-$400 per square foot installed), but then they are only about $120 for annual inspection and 3-4 link/clip replacements. 5lb K-types extinguishers are about $300 each and need to be replaced/recharged every 5 years. In addition, your insurance company will take into consideration if you have a passive (hood) K-type fire suppression system or not, and your insurance rates will likely reflect this difference.  WHY? Full hood suppression systems are linked to your propane system and will cut the flow of gas if the automatic suppression system is released due to fire or extreme heat. Thus, with a passive or automatic hood suppression system, you will have the added benefit of saving your rig from total meltdown. So it may be more economical and definitely safer in the long run to spend the money on the fire suppression system upfront.

Be sure to check with your local municipality about what type of system they require, as well as check with different insurance companies to see what your rates will be with and without a full fire suppression system.

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