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State panel puts off decision on gas station fire systems

A state panel Friday put off a decision about whether to end a requirement that new gas stations be equipped with sophisticated fire suppression systems.

The State Fire Prevention and Building Code Council had been expected to discuss lifting the mandate at its meeting Friday in Albany. Officials of the Department of State, which oversees the council, told the panel that more time and information was needed.

"The Department of State informed the Council at the meeting it requires more information, data and analysis on the issue to adequately present to the Council," department spokesman Laz Benitez said.

The council is making changes to the state's Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code so that it matches the 2015 International Fire Code, which does not require the fire suppression equipment.

The suppression systems, located in the canopy above gas pumps, are programmed to detect rapid increases in heat levels and release a dry fire-retardant chemical that extinguishes flames before they spread.

Supporters of the mandate, including the Nassau and Suffolk County Fire Marshals, say lifting the mandate, first imposed in 1984, would risk lives. Filippo Conte of Northport, who owns a Huntington Station fire equipment company, has formed the New York State Association of Fire Equipment Companies to advocate against the rule change.

Backers of the rule repeal, including the New York State Association of Convenience Stores, say the systems are too expensive to install and maintain, use outdated technology and malfunction frequently. The systems cost between $7,000 and $35,000 and maintenance is about $1,000 a year.

If the council votes to approve the rule change, a regulation would be drafted and 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. The change would go into effect next year. The council has not scheduled another meeting to discuss the mandate, Benitez said.

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