Amended fire pit ordinance passes

WESTFIELD – The City Council passed an amended ordinance to restrict fire pits and chimineas to within 20 feet of a structure or dwelling, instead of 50 feet, as originally proposed.
During public participation prior to the vote, several residents raised objections to the ordinance, stating that 50 feet was unacceptable.
Resident Matthew Ryan came to the podium with his son Jack, stating that as a single father who gets to see his son every other weekend, the time they spend around the fire pit helps to bond them as a family.
“I hope the City of Westfield sees the importance of maintaining fire pits,” Ryan said.
“Why do you want to take my chiminea?” asked another resident.
During the discussion, Ward 4 Councilor Mary L. O’Connell, who serves on the Legislation & Ordinance Committee (L&O) said the Westfield Fire Department first came to the City Council with this request. She also pointed out that West Springfield allows no fire pits.
“Fifity feet is a big distance. If our intention is to ban chimineas or fire pits in parts of the city, that’s essentially what we’re doing,” said At-large Councilor Dan Allie.
He added that every manufacturer he could find recommended a distance of 10 feet from structures.
“Twenty-25 feet is probably more than ample,” Allie said.
Ward 2 Councilor Ralph J. Figy, who chairs the L&O Committee, said that as it stands now everybody’s fire without a permit is illegal.
“The Fire Department came in with 75 feet. The committee convinced them of putting it at 50,” Figy said. “If you’re unhappy with that amount of footage, maybe it needs an amendment, or we could put it back to committee.”
At-large Councilor Daniel Knapik suggested that it be amended on the floor.
“I would entertain a motion to amend to 15-20 feet,” Knapik said, noting that the City Council has always done what it felt was right, regardless of recommendations from other departments.
“One of the distinctions is whether the pit has a screen on it,” said Ward 6 Councilor William J. Onyski, who also serves on the L&O.
Several councilors suggested the ordinance go back to the committee.
“The secondary danger that the Fire Department pointed out is the health issue, especially for family members with respiratory issues,” O’Connell said.
“It seems we do have a nuisance ordinance health issue, with smoke coming into their houses. I would guess I’d encourage whatever footage we let residents know they should have the right to file a complaint,” said Ward 1 Councilor Mary Ann Babinski.
Allie made a motion to amend the ordinance to 20 feet and include screens on fire pits. The motion to amend passed.
At-large Councilor Steven Dondley asked how strictly the current ordinance is enforced.
“That’s a great question. They respond to calls. They don’t have the time to scour back yards,” said O’Connell.
“I would think if we change the number of feet, that would suffice,” Figy said.
“If you have a hibachi, you can have a fire outside, barbeque-style. Look at gas grills. People use them right next to their garages. At some point, you’ve got to let people have some common sense,” Knapik said.
The question was called, and the ordinance passed as amended by a majority vote.

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