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Panel mulls end to rule mandating fire suppression systems at gas stations

A state panel is expected Friday to consider ending a requirement that new gas stations be equipped with sophisticated fire suppression systems.

Supporters of the rule, including the owner of a Huntington Station fire equipment company who is leading the campaign against the change, said the systems are as necessary as smoke detectors or fire extinguishers in homes and businesses.

But the service station industry, which wants the mandate repealed, says the systems are prohibitively expensive and outdated because of newer technology.

Fire suppression systems, located in the canopy above gas pumps, are programmed to detect sudden increases in heat levels, and release a dry fire-retardant chemical that extinguishes flames before they spread. They cost between $7,000 and $35,000, based on various factors including size, and maintenance is about $1,000 a year.

The New York State Fire Prevention and Building Code Council, with appointees from state and municipal governments, fire departments, engineering companies and unions, Friday will discuss whether to change the state Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code so that it matches the 2015 International Fire Code, which does not require the fire suppression equipment.

In 2013, the Council's Fire Code Technical Subcommittee voted to lift the mandate, which has been in place in New York since 1984.

Filippo Conte of Northport, president of Elite Action Fire, which sells and installs the systems, formed the New York State Association of Fire Equipment Companies to advocate against the rule change. He said the technology has saved lives and property across the state.

Conte noted an April 2014 incident in Saratoga Springs in which a motorist hit a gas pump, causing a fire that was extinguished moments later by the suppression system.

Ending the regulation would make "New Yorkers more vulnerable when they fill up at the gas station," Conte said.

Jim Calvin, president of the New York State Association of Convenience Stores, which represents gas station owners, said suppression systems are costly to purchase and maintain and frequently malfunction, causing "dangerous" and "chaotic" situations as customers flee.

"There is very little benefit to the individual, the state or the public," said Calvin.

Tariq Khan, owner of a Gulf station in West Hempstead and a Mobil station in Levittown, called the equipment unnecessary because gas stations are equipped with a valve that cuts off the fuel supply during a fire.

"The cost of doing business for gas stations continues to escalate," said Khan, of Hewlett.

Robert Bambino, president of the Suffolk County Fire Marshals Association, said ending the fire suppression system mandate would put lives at risk, particularly at downstate gas stations with large numbers of customers. While officials said a vote Fridayon suppression system mandate is not guaranteed, Conte said he was told by two senior Department of State officials that a vote is expected.

If the council votes to approve the rule change, a regulation would be drafted and members of the public would be allowed time to comment. The council would then review the comments and vote a final time whether to adopt the rule as soon as late-2015. The change would go into effect in 2016.

Fire suppression systems also are required in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

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