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Fire Suppression System Requirement At Gas Stations Could Soon Be Lifted For N.Y. State

HUNTINGTON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Motorists who pull into gas stations likely don't notice the fire suppression systems embedded in overhead canopies, but for decades, New York state has required them.

As CBS2's Diane Macedo reported, fire officials credit the systems with saving lives both for the public and for first responders. But the state's Code Council could soon lift the requirement.

It's a terrifying scene for any motorist, when something goes wrong as a gas station and a fire begins raging.

An April incident in Saratoga Springs, for example, could have caused a horror. But the gas station's fire suppression system kicked in before anyone was injured.

The system involves heat detectors that are programmed to detect any sudden rise in temperature. That triggers a fire-retardant chemical to spray out of nozzles and onto the fire.

The goal is either to extinguish the fire, or subdue it so the fire department has more time to respond and people have more time to get away.

But a pending vote at the New York State Code Council could soon lift the statewide requirement that gas stations have those systems.

Filippo Conte, who installs and maintains the systems, said the vote would be a dangerous move -- especially as gas stations continue to grow in size and the number attendants staffing them decreases.

"People are not experts at fueling flammable liquids, and mistakes happen," said Conte, president of the New York State Association of Fire Equipment Companies.

In a June gas station fire on the Hutchinson River Parkway in White Plains, a driver went into diabetic shock and drove right into the pump. In that case, Conte said the fire suppression system wasn't maintained, so it didn't go off.

Luckily, the man hit by the pump happened to be a New York State trooper and made this daring rescue.

But Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, said the suppression systems can also misfire.

"When such malfunctions occur, it's messy, costly, and dangerous - for both the gas station owner and the unsuspecting fuel customers who happen to be at the pump," Calvin said.

The association also said modern gas stations don't need the systems, because they have a valve that cuts off fuel supply in the event of a fire.

But Huntington Manor Fire Chief Frank McQuade said the suppression systems are still necessary.

"It's like a smoke detector in your house. Every house should have one," McQuade said. "Same thing with a gas station. If it's deployed before we get there, nine out of 10 times, the fire's going to be knocked down prior to our arrival."

The state has not yet taken a position on ending the fire suppression requirement for gas stations, but pointed out that the International Fire Code does not have, and never has had, such a requirement.

The council is expected to vote on whether to lift the fire suppression requirement on Feb. 11.

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