New fire protection code offers safety guidance for food trucks
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Bill Findley is the vice president of service management at Koorsen Fire and Security.
by Billy Findley
Many food trucks have a "DIY" feel, and some are even shaped like the food they sell, such as tacos or pizza slices. But what isn't so DIY about food trucks is the safety and requirements to properly run and serve customers. With a truck full with gas, oils and heating implements, it's no secret that food trucks are fire hazards on wheels. Which brings us to an essential factor in food truck safety: fire suppression systems. Let's take a look at how suppression systems are becoming more and more of a need to have, rather than a nice to have in the food truck industry.
From the bubbling fryer to the hands of their hungry customers, food trucks pose unique hazards due to their limited space and custom nature. Imagine a fire sparking in a brick-and-mortar restaurant's kitchen — customers at the front of the restaurant may not even notice the fire right away. Now imagine one in a food truck — customers are front and center of this unfortunate disaster, providing even more of a reason for food truck operators to be extra cautious.
When driving from one location to the next, cooking sprays and oils, propane tanks and high efficiency appliances all present a risk as they are jolted around in the back, no matter how tightly sealed they may be. Unbeknownst to the cooks, these items could spill or start leaking. If a fire were to spark, the gasoline tanks on the truck could add literal fuel to any fire. To ensure these hazards remain minimum, or better yet, nonexistent, food trucks should implement fire safety and suppression systems.
Cooperating with local governments
As food truck popularity continues to grow, so do concerns from local governments in the areas where trucks are operating. Food truck regulations may be lacking across the board, but most states do have at least some requirements for inspections and levels of fire safety — just like they do for regular restaurants.
By implementing these requirements for food trucks, it evens the playing field for trucks and your favorite local restaurant. To take it one step further, some cities are implementing specific codes, and even requiring permits. Aurora, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, set new regulations for trucks for both safety considerations, and to establish a license and fees for the trucks. Offering different tiers of licenses — including a one-day license, a one-time license for four events and an annual license for year-round operation — provides flexibility to food truck operators depending on their type and length of service.
LaCrosse, Wisconsin is another example of a local government leveling the requirements for food trucks. Before they even receive a permit, food trucks must be inspected by the city's fire prevention and building safety staff.
What's the solution?
Meeting city regulations and inspections can add another "to-do" for food truck operators, but new codes from the National Fire Protection Agency are helping ease the process. Through NFPA 1, Section 50.7, food trucks are given the first fire safety code designed specifically for them. From installation to inspection, maintenance and testing, installation of containers and storage, and use and transport of LP gases, this new code impacts many safety aspects of a food truck. Not only does this provide a sense of ease for local governments, but also the necessary safety and security to food truck operators and customers.
Between the unique layouts and needs of food trucks, not every solution is a one-size-fits-all. How can food truck operators protect their truck, customers, and gain a better understanding of fire safety and suppression systems?
Custom Concessions distributes more than 70 food trucks each year around the country. The company must ensure all of its trucks include appropriate grade fire extinguishers and fire suppression systems for their unique mobile kitchen challenges. From Texas Roadhouse to Dunkin' Donuts, no two trucks are alike, and from Seattle to New York, locations have different regulations and codes.
Custom Concessions partners with a fire and life safety company to ensure all of its trucks have proper fire safety and suppression systems, and all regulations are up to date before being released. Together, the two companies make it seamless for operators to submit jurisdiction, fire codes and health codes of the local and state government they plan to operate in. With 90 percent of its trucks requiring fire suppression systems, it's essential that Custom Concessions adheres to codes and regulations, including the developing NFPA codes.
Food truck safety doesn't have to be difficult — by taking necessary steps and staying up to speed with codes and regulations, operators can focus less on the hazards in their unique truck and more on their customers' cravings.