The Jersey City Council will consider banning the use of open fire and recreational fire pits on first reading at tomorrow’s meeting, a measure recommended by the Division of Fire Safety.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
” … The City wishes to create an ordinance establishing a higher standard for the promotion and protection of the safety and welfare of the City regarding the burning of open fires,” the local legislation says.
Public Safety Director James Shea told the city council at yesterday’s caucus that complaints have started to come in regarding about fire pits.
He admitted that they did not have any data on how many fires these pits have caused, but added that made sense since the ashes and cinders typically only become a danger once they land on neighboring properties.
“We have never been in favor of having them, as we, speaking for the fire department and the fire service. As you know, we don’t even like candles. We don’t like open flames in general,” Shea explained.
“This mirrors the state and what New York does, which has the same type of building and environment as us – if anything ours is a little older. So we’ve been a little more permissive here in Jersey City and there’s never been a problem. We’ve started to see an uptick in complaints and calls to the fire department since about when COVID happened.”
Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano asked to clarify what would be banned, to which Shea said that it would apply to anything that is not gas powered.
Boggiano said that while he supported banning open flames, he did not support banning fire pits that are covered and monitored.
“I’m not a fireman, but 99 percent of them don’t live here and I’m sure they all go down the shore and have fires in their backyards and everything and they’re telling the people of Jersey City [they can’t]: this is wrong.”
Shea replied that the screen covers on fire pits aren’t deemed a sufficient safety measure by the fire department.
Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey asked how enforcement would work if this ordinance was ultimately codified into municipal law.
“It would go to the Quality of Life Task Force: the fire department usually gets called when someone sees either the smoke or the open flame and doesn’t understand what it is. Up until now we just tried to warn, tell people how to do it safely, we would now refer to the Quality of Life Task Force to instruct people that it’s illegal,” Shea noted.
Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera expressed a concern that this could lead to the elimination of barbecue pits, but Shea said that was not something on their radar.
Later, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley asked how this would impact permitted religious bonfires, though Shea said there has been significant community outreach and an open dialogue on those, therefore he didn’t see that being a problem.
Still, Ridley sought further clarity if they would be exempt from the rule, to which Shea said they would not and would have to find a gas powered alternative.
Council President Joyce Watterman asked if this would still apply to restaurants, to which Shea said they would.
“Could it be like a restriction if the winds are so many miles per hour, you can’t burn it, something like that? ‘Cuz I understand the thinking behind it: if it is windy, the fire flies,” she said regarding a possible amendment.
Shea indicated he would need to speak with Acting Fire Chief Stephan Drennan to see if that’s something that would work.
The Jersey City Council will convene tomorrow at City Hall, 280 Grove St., at 6 p.m. for their regular meeting, which will also stream live on Microsoft Teams.