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Sides Pump Up Arguments Over Gas Station Overhangs

N.Y. Board Recommended Dropping Requirement
A Hess Gas Station - Hicksville, NY - Dec 7, 2010 - Photo: Mike Xirinachs / WCBS 880

A Hess gas station in Hicksville, N.Y. (credit: Mike Xirinachs / WCBS 880)

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ALBANY (CBSNewYork/AP) — While New York considers dropping a requirement that gas stations have overhangs with fire-suppression systems, some observers are concerned that public safety could be put at risk.

In January, an advisory board of government and fire officials recommended the overhead systems no longer be mandatory. Critics say they are costly and unnecessary.

Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) is fighting the recommendation, which will soon be considered by another committee. He calls the overhangs vital safety measures that for years have “protected many New Yorkers from serious harm.”

The canopy protection automatically blasts fire suppression material and shuts off gas flow when a fire or explosion is detected at the pumps. The systems have been required in New York since 1984, but New York is one of the few states that require them. They cost about $5,000 with annual maintenance of about $500, according to those who support them.

Jim Burns, president of the Firefighters Association of the State of New York, which represents volunteer firefighters, said having the systems is “like having a firefighter on duty 24 hours a day.” He said there are no data on the number of incidents.

Brindisi provided two videos to support his position. One showed a fireball at a Westchester County gas station that was quickly snuffed by a white cloud from above months ago.

The other video was of a Tennessee gas station without an overhead fire suppression system. An employee had to run to the scene with a hand-held fire extinguisher as the clothing of two customers was aflame and they were briefly hidden from the employee by a car on fire.

Jim Burns, president of the Firefighters Association of the State of New York, which represents volunteer firefighters, said having the systems is “like having a firefighter on duty 24 hours a day.” He said there are no data on the number of incidents.

Brindisi provided two videos to support his position. One showed a fireball at a Westchester County gas station that was quickly snuffed by a white cloud from above months ago.

The other video was of a Tennessee gas station without an overhead fire suppression system. An employee had to run to the scene with a hand-held fire extinguisher as the clothing of two customers was aflame and they were briefly hidden from the employee by a car on fire.

The Cuomo administration downplayed the advisory board’s recommendation.

“The fire code technical subcommittee’s recommendation is just that — a recommendation,” said Cuomo spokesman Laz Benitez. “The Department of State is in its early stages of reviewing this policy, but under no circumstances will the public’s safety be put at risk by these efforts to modernize New York’s fire code.”

The New York Association of Convenience Stores, a powerful lobbying voice for small businesses, says the overhead systems aren’t needed anymore and cause their own hazard.

“We care about the safety of our customers and employees,” association president James Calvin said in a June letter to the state. “But fire suppression systems at retail fueling facilities pose as much danger and chaos as they provide protection, and we believe the costs now outweigh the benefits.”

The business group provided its own tragic example in which a Vermont woman was struck and killed by a truck after a fire suppression system was accidentally activated. Calvin said in the letter, which he provided on Monday, that accidental discharges damage cars and clothing, scare customers and hurt businesses’ reputations.

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