HOW I GOT A VARIANCE FROM THE STATE FIRE MARSHALL
(in only 100 easy steps) by Gary Yeates, Managing Partner, CNG Pitstop
In January 2016, I read in the Ohio Clean Fuels newsletter for the first time about the Ohio Fire Code requiring a costly fire suppression system for unmanned, public CNG. The fire code is currently written for gasoline and diesel stations and doesn’t address natural gas stations.
Fire experts all agree that a chemical fire suppression system at a CNG only facility is useless. Our small, private company was in the planning stages to build such a station in the Dover, Ohio area. Throughout a large part of the year, I worked with the Fire Marshal's office with the assistance of Jason Phillips at Clean Fuels Ohio, who had been working to get the fire code changed for several years. The fire marshal's office informed me that to be granted a variance, I would need, at a minimum, to create a plan to satisfy the safety requirement already in the code and get local support via the city fire chief to implement that plan in our design.
Working with the Dover fire chief and his inspector, it was decided that if we were able to activate the automatic shut down sequence for the station with the automatic fire detection system, it would automatically shut off the gas supply, turn off the equipment and call the fire department without anyone needing to hit a button. An extremely large part of why our efforts were successful was because we had the support from our local Chief.
Getting this plan through the system to be awarded a variance was quite a process. The local building inspector presented our plan to his peers in a monthly standards review meeting where it was given a positive vote. Next, the building inspector issued us an adjudication order paving the way for us to have a hearing before the Board of Building Appeals. The board of appeals felt that our plan showed merit and we were granted a variance to receive an Occupancy Permit.
However, we were still in violation with the State Fire Code, and the State Fire Marshal's office requested a reconsideration hearing before the Board of Building Appeals to deny our variance. The board upheld their original ruling and we were told that we could bring any future violation notices to them for reprieve from the Fire Marshal's office.
At this time, the matter had received sufficient attention in the Fire Marshal's office that they analyzed the alternative plan to lay the groundwork for a variance to the state fire code which can only be granted by the State Fire Marshall himself. Over 6 months after my initial inquiry, we were granted a variance to the state fire code using our automatic shut down connection with the fire detection system in lieu of a costly and useless suppression system.
Throughout the process, I consulted with Jason Phillips, Policy Director at Clean Fuels Ohio who also attended every hearing with me and worked behind the scenes with government officials and lawmakers to assist us in getting the rule changed.
As a result of these efforts, the Ohio State Fire Code will be amended over the next year with language specific for CNG stations and the fire protections systems that are required. In the mean time, if your fire protection plans follow the template we used in the construction of our Dover station, the Fire Marshal's office has indicated they will issue a variance until the code is officially changed.