Crab Fest is coming up, and for many, that calls to mind memories of Bruin Burgers, funnel cakes, or fried turkey legs. But for the vendors producing those fried goodies, the upcoming festival also represents the need to make fire safety upgrades to their booths.
Updated state fire code regulations kick in this year for vendors cooking and selling food out of booths that are on wheels — think food trucks, primarily. Anyone making fried food is now required to have a special type of ventilation hood over their cooking surface that pulls greasy vapors out of the air. The hood also has to be equipped with an automatic fire suppression system, which releases chemical fire retardant in the event of a grease fire.
The codes aren’t new, says Kodiak Fire Chief Jim Mullican. And even though they only officially went into effect January 1, Mullican has been working with vendors since last spring to get them up to par.
“Last year I began adding the separation requirements between propane supplied vehicles themselves as well as permanent structures,” he said. “Other assorted alarm requirements on the interior of these trailers, as well as fire safety layouts, stuff of that nature.”
That kind of equipment isn’t cheap. Mullican and the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce have been working with vendors to develop solutions. “Some people can’t afford these ventilation systems, they’re extremely expensive,” Sarah Phillips, Community Relations Director at the Chamber said. “The ones that can’t afford it, he is working with them on preparing food outside of their booth and bringing it in, or maybe a change to a menu item so that they don’t have to cook it that specific way.
Sonia Ramos, of D’Jals Brothers BBQ, estimated a new hood would cost thousands to install, so she’s decided to move some of her cooking — like frying eggrolls — just out of her booth. Other dishes, like noodles, Ramos says she’s decided to cook in the licensed kitchen at St. Mary’s Parish, and bring to her booth to sell at Crab Fest.
But despite the added hurdle, Phillips says they have almost the same number of vendors as they did last year. “I really love our Crab Fest vendors because so many of them do it because this is the one stop shop in Kodiak,” she said. “This is the one time to really come together so some of them aren’t maybe gonna make a profit this year … which is why I say more than ever, go support all these food vendors that come, because they’ve worked so hard for all of us to be there.”
As of Wednesday, Phillips said, all but two of her list of 18 food vendors have met the fire code standards.