Cooking Activities are Top Hospital Fire Threat

Scott Wallask, for HealthLeaders Media , April 30, 2009

Wondering what top fire safety danger to mention the next time you run into your facilities director or safety officer?

First and foremost, ask them to keep a close eye on the kitchen and other cooking areas, as cooking operations are the source of 52% of blazes in hospitals and hospices, according to data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

This cooking-related problem persists despite it being well documented over the years.

“[With cooking], you’ve got a heat source, you’ve got a fuel source, and at some point if not supervised properly, you’ve got a fire,” says David Demers, PE, CFI, owner of Demers Associates, Inc., in Lunenburg, MA. Demers is a member of an NFPA technical committee on venting systems for cooking appliances.

Even though cooking fires remain troublesome in hospitals, Demers has seen the number of such fires decrease from years past because facilities have limited the amount of deep-fat frying done in kitchens.

However, risky spots to monitor are privately run restaurants and snack bars in hospitals, which still often deep fry foods, he said.

The fire statistics come courtesy of Structure Fires in Medical, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Facilities, a report which the NFPA published in February 2009 and can currently be downloaded for free.

Going by the report’s statistics, which cover the period from 2003–2006, there are 1,600 fires in hospitals and hospices annually, which result in an average of one death and 29 civilian injuries.

As a comparison, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 99,000 people die each year from infections they acquire during hospital stays.

In other words, life safety prevention strategies and associated regulatory pressure from The Joint Commission and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are working well to keep fire-related casualties low in hospitals.

The NFPA combines statistics for hospitals and hospices into one category. Those settings experience an average total of $5.5 million in direct property damage from fires.

Some other interesting tidbits from the report:
•    Fires in hospitals typically occur on a weekday, with peak hours from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
•    Three out of four fires in hospitals and hospices were too small to activate sprinklers
•    During fires large enough to activate sprinklers, the sprinklers were 100% effective when they operated properly

Scott Wallask is senior managing editor for the Hospital Safety Center. He can be reached at

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