The good shepherd

by Tiffany Paczek
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Shepherd Filters founder Jeremy Kronk lives up to his company’s namesake by leading the way in kitchen fire safety.

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” Or so said 20th century American-Lebanese writer and poet Khalil Gibran, and his words undisputedly ring true for Shepherd Filters founder and director Jeremy Kronk.

Kronk is no stranger to suffering, for in 2015 he experienced a horrific explosion and house fire that left him fighting for life. He suffered severe full-thickness burns to 52 percent of his body that forced him into an induced coma for six weeks and required more than three months in hospital. Full-thickness burns, or third-degree burns, destroy both layers of skin (epidermis and dermis) and may penetrate even more deeply into the subcutaneous tissue, muscle and bone, often causing scarring. Miraculously, Kronk survived his ordeal, although his injuries were so grievous that his recovery took two gruelling years.

Now on the other side of his harrowing experience, Kronk is dedicating his life to stopping preventable grease fires from occurring and hurting others as he was hurt. This is something he feels strongly about; he doesn’t want anyone to endure the same horrific experience and so he has looked for ways to reduce the risk of kitchen fires that can cause people to suffer a similar fate.

This drive led Kronk down the entrepreneurial path to develop Shepherd Filters, a simple and effective solution to reduce the build-up of grease within kitchen exhaust systems. After inspecting numerous restaurants and cooking venues, Kronk realised how rife – and dangerous – the problem was throughout the commercial kitchen industry.

Fires break out in restaurant kitchens every week, often burning entire buildings to the ground and injuring or even killing those caught in them. This year has already seen commercial kitchen fires sustain millions of dollars worth of damage. In January 2017, terror reigned in Sydney’s Pitt and George Streets as smoke billowed from the ducts of a popular steak restaurant, causing 100 people to be evacuated and three to be hospitalised for smoke inhalation. The following month in New York, a grease fire ravaged a Seventh Avenue restaurant, injuring three people and endangering the lives of residents in the adjoining buildings.

These fires and their like start when airborne fat and oil from cooking build up in kitchen exhaust filters, travel through the hood and ducts and into the roof, blocking ventilation and reducing air flow. Notoriously flammable, the grease acts like a ‘ticking time bomb’, and all it takes is a stray spark to ignite it and send the whole system up in flames. A mere two millimetres of grease build-up is all it takes to pose a severe fire risk and endanger the lives of restaurant staff and patrons.

Industry statistics calculate that the ignition of cooking materials accounts for almost half of all commercial kitchen fires in Australia, the UK and the US, and that in 90 percent of cases the fire spreads through the exhaust system.

Although Australian standards impose strict regulations on kitchen exhaust hoods, including biannual inspections, it’s thought that the frequency of grease fires results from a lack of knowledge on proper maintenance and failure to uphold safety standards. Through visiting venues, Kronk identified potential causes for fires grease as a lack of understanding of the required maintenance of exhaust hoods and filters, and/or a lack of care by those hired to clean them. All of which was leading to unnecessary, avoidable kitchen fires around the world.

“Grease fires are preventable, but some contractors in the industry don’t seem to care about safety,” Kronk says. “Often cleaners will do the bare minimum, without getting to those hard-to-reach places. They’ll provide venue owners with photos only of the cleaned area and vague maintenance reports.”

He firmly believes that restaurant staff and customers should be aware of the dangers and volatility of grease fires. The trauma of his own experience and his ensuing industry research led Kronk to expand on the idea of a biodegradable exhaust filter cover made from Australian wool. The filter cover captures 98 percent of flammable grease before it enters the hood system, reducing the accumulation within the system and significantly reducing the risk of inferno.

The filters sit inside state-of-the-art stainless steel frames and capture the airborne grease. They’re easily replaceable, cost-effective, environmentally friendly and support Australian wool farmers.

“Wool is a natural grease attracter,” Kronk says. “The grease-absorbing capability of wool can save restaurants and food service operations time and money on cleaning and maintaining vent hood systems.”

Wool is naturally self-extinguishing and the Shepherd Filter System acts as a fire prevention mechanism by trapping airborne grease particles and preventing the spread of fire. The filters conform to both the AS1668 and UL1046 standards and, when tested in flames, the filter panel prevents the flames from spreading and self extinguishes when the flame is removed. Additionally, the filters are easily installed into any existing hood and replacing them is a quick and easy process for kitchen employees.

Kronk urges restaurant and facility managers to check their ducts and their cleaners’ work or to call a professional, like Shepherd Filters, for a thorough inspection. “Get it clean and keep it clean,” he says.

Shepherd Filters has experienced great success and received excellent feedback from its clients, and Kronk says that he is very proud of the fact that every sheet is 100 percent Australian made using a labour force of people with disabilities. Kronk is now distributing the filters to a number of countries around the world and achieving what he set out to do – helping to reduce kitchen fires and, as a result, essentially saving lives.

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This article also appears in the August/September issue of Facility Management magazine.

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