The City of Hoboken was set to vote on the second reading of proposed “additional safety measures” to the City Code section “Fire Prevention” Section 101-12, which essentially would ban outdoor grill usage on balconies and other areas of multifamily and high-rise buildings in Hoboken (in an effort to prevent fires and emergency situations) on Wednesday 9/1. However, the item has been taken off of the meeting agenda for now. The proposal was put forth by Hoboken Fire Marshall Stephen Vincent in an effort to be proactive rather than reactive in emergency cases.
What It Means
The proposal is broken down into five sections: section one being the additional rules and regulations; section two being a repeal of “inconsistent provisions,”; section three being severability; section four being the effective date; and section five being codification. In short, this amendment, if adopted by the Council, would ban all grills, charcoal, electric, or otherwise, both personal and those that are available for common use, from all apartment buildings in Hoboken as a preventative measure due to the history of complaints and incidents in town.
Section one of the proposed amendment labeled “Amendments” states:
A. Due to the nature of high-rise buildings and other multiple-family dwellings (R-2) within the City of Hoboken, it is necessary for the City to enact stricter regulations regarding the use of open-flame cooking devices; portable charcoal burners, such as barbeque grills, other open-flame cooking devices, LP gas cooking equipment, and portable electric cooking devices shall be prohibited. The cooking devices previously mentioned produce grease-laden vapors, which can lead to a fire and the emitted smoke from cooking will create a nuisance to the public and other tenants.
B. International Fire Code 2015, New Jersey edition, Section 308 (Open flames cooking devices or burning) is amended as follows:
Open flame cooking devices; charcoal burners, open flames smokers, LP-gas, and electric grills shall not be operated or stored:
- 1. On any porch, balcony, or any other portion of a building (R-2)
- 2. Within any room or space of a building
- 3. Within 10 feet of any combustible exterior wall (ground floor)
- 4. Within 10 feet, vertically or horizontally, of any opening in any wall (ground floor)
- 5. Under any building overhang
- 6. Use of flammable liquids to aid in lighting or sustaining a fire is prohibited
C. The above amendment shall not apply to detached owner-occupied one- and two-family dwellings.
According to the proposed amendment, “All ordinances or parts thereof in conflict or inconsistent with this Ordinance are hereby repealed, but only to the extent of such conflict or inconsistency, it being the legislative intent that all such ordinances or part of ordinances now existing or in effect, unless the same are in conflict or inconsistent with any provision of this Ordinance shall remain in effect.”
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What This Means
As the proposal currently stands, if passed, grills in any capacity would be banned from multifamily and high-rise buildings — not including ones in courtyards as long as they are on the ground and not on an extension of the building like a balcony, are within 10 feet of any combustible exterior wall, any openings in a wall, or underneath any building overhang.
The History of Grills in Multifamily and High-Rise Buildings
Some high-rise buildings in Hoboken already have a restriction in place for BBQ grill, so this is not a new concept in town.
Other residential buildings have grills available for common use among residents which include Applied, Bozzuto, the Tea, and Maxwell properties.
The New Jersey Fire Code states that LP-gas grills and outdoor fireplaces are prohibited on balconies, porches, or any other portion of the building. A document available on NJ.gov was created for “Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Fire Code – New Jersey Edition.” Regarding grills being a fire hazard in buildings, the Code states:
What Residents Are Saying
A Hoboken couple who reached out to Hoboken Girl about the amendment shared via email, “The fact that this was rushed through the council during August with little or no notice to the public (as well as in the middle of an appeal regarding this very issue) is troubling and disappointing. Setting aside the fact that it’s pretty clear we would otherwise win our appeal, such appeal would be moot with this new law. More importantly, thousands of residents (many of whom live along the uptown waterfront) can no longer have any grills.”
Other residents in local Facebook groups agreed. “Either the fire department views grills as hazardous across the board or it doesn’t, but to carve out brownstones, most of which are highly combustible, is just not right and is discriminating against apartment/condo dwellers where the buildings are built to the latest state and national fire and safety codes.”
In one such Facebook group, in response to a post that the proposal vote had been removed for this week, another resident said, “Let’s make sure that doesn’t sneak back on.”
Another responded, “The fire department enforced this legislation several months ago in our building. All residents with a grill in their balcony needed to get rid of it. It wouldn’t be fair that it’s only applied to some buildings,” making the point that if some buildings are banning the use of grills in buildings, it would only be fair that all buildings adhere to the same rules.”
What Councilmembers Are Saying
The Hoboken Council was slated to vote on approving this amendment, which would decide the fate of BBQ grills in Hoboken’s multifamily and high-rise buildings on Wednesday 9/1. However, Emily Jabbour, Councilperson-At-Large stated on Facebook in a comments section, ” This item is being pulled from the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting based on my conversations with other City Councilmembers.”
Councilperson Tiffanie Fisher also shared an email that she wrote, and also posted a comment on Facebook on Tuesday, stating, “RE: OUTDOOR GRILL ORDINANCE. I removed it from the City Council agenda. Although initiated by our Fire Code official for discussion, it was created and put on the agenda by the Bhalla administration without discussion or presented to the public safety subcommittee which I chair.”
We reached out to the rest of the council members for their input on the matter.
Council President Ruben Ramos and Councilperson Tiffanie Fisher both stated that the item had been taken off of the agenda. However, Fisher added, “Will be submitted to the public safety subcommittee before it is put back on the agenda, if at all. Will provide comments if/when it is an agenda item again.”
Councilman Michael DeFusco told us, “Grills are an easy way to prepare healthy nutritious meals and we need to make them more available to our residents, not make it more difficult. This mayor needs to stop regulating the way people live and worry about core governmental issues – ensuring spending is reeled in, paving our streets, fixing potholes, and figuring out a new plan for flooding.”
Councilman Michael Russo added, “It was a first reading that made its way onto the agenda with no committee discussion. I don’t know who placed it on the agenda or why it was, but it should have gone through the committee process. It is my understanding that it will be removed immediately. And if it isn’t I will not be supporting it.”
Councilperson-at-Large Emily Jabbour stated, “Once the impact of the proposed change was realized in terms of the reach, several Councilmembers – who had been contacted by concerned residents – requested that the ordinance be pulled from the agenda (it had been on for second reading). It is my understanding that the intent of the proposed ordinance was to address a concern with the use of charcoal grills in shared spaces and balconies. This issue has been referred to the public safety subcommittee to discuss with HFD directly to come up with a solution that does not result in unintended consequences. Thank you to the members of the public who reached out to share their concerns!”
What the Hoboken Fire Department is Saying
“As a firefighter, I have responded to propane grills setting a wood deck on fire. So yes, it can happen,” Hoboken Fire Department Chief Anton Peskens told Hoboken Girl. “Whenever there’s an open flame, there’s a chance for a fire.”
What the Hoboken Fire Marshall is Saying
We spoke with Hoboken Fire Marshall Steve Vincent and he explained that he had put the amendment together in an effort to be “proactive, not reactive,” as his job is to prevent fires from happening when possible.
“Hoboken has approximately 75 high rises in a square mile, we’re densely populated, and we should be ahead of the curve if something happens,” he explained. “We’re in the business of compliance and safety, we also look at the worst-case scenario. Any open flame or electric heating device could cause a fire. The current code 2015 International Fire Code – New Jersey Edition is what we go by.”
“Not only do I feel it’s a fire concern, but people also call to complain about grills and [grill] smoke often.”
He went on to explain the events that lead to drafting the amendment, “A lot of people are cooking on their patios, and our department has received many calls about grills, smoke, and open flames on balconies and patios in town.”He recalled an incident where smoke from a grill was flowing into a woman’s apartment who has COPD, posing a health threat.
He continued, “After accessing The New Jersey Fire Code, I spoke to the state’s Fire Marshall about the Code, looked into how other New Jersey municipalities have gone about enforcing these regulations and some of them have chosen to be even more strict, including Jersey City and Bayonne in regard to high rises/multiple-family units with respect to cooking.” According to the Code, municipalities must adhere to the regulations listed but have the autonomy to enforce stricter rules, but the rules can never be less/more lenient than what the Code states. “I passed on the information I had gathered and presented it to our Corporation Council explaining that I want to present a new high-rise ordinance, and asked how I should go about creating and presenting it.”
As to how the amendment was presented to the Hoboken Council, Steve explained, “I’ve never done this before [present a new ordinance/resolution to the City], so I told the Corporation Council what I wanted in the amendment and from there it was approved by the law department. I didn’t realize at first that it was going to be voted on by the Hoboken Council. How it happened may have been a miscommunication but it was done innocently and with the intention of putting fire safety awareness first.” He also stated, “We needed to have more of a discussion about it, as they weren’t aware of the amendment initially, and that’s what I wanted in the first place.”
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The item has been removed from the agenda, however, since then, the Fire Marshall and councilmembers have agreed to an in-person discussion about the NJ Fire Code and the amendment he is putting forward.
“It all comes down to a life safety issue. That’s the whole idea of fire prevention. We want to be a proactive fire department, not a reactive one. We don’t want to wait until, God forbid, someone dies because of a fire started by a grill, we want to avoid that scenario at all costs. The fire prevention department would be held accountable for not enforcing these rules sooner, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
“I appreciate the dialogue around the Code and Amendment and am open to speaking to anyone who is interested in learning more about it or wants to share their thoughts. It’s an open-door policy.” To speak to Hoboken Fire Marshall Stephen DiVincent directly, residents can contact him at 201-420-2268 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.