Celebrate Safely - Tips from Clifton's Fire Marshal
Mike Pressler is Clifton’s Fire Marshal and along with four full-time and two part-time inspectors, he heads up this important division of the Clifton Fire Department. He was first hired as an inspector in 2003, then promoted to Supervisor of Inspections in 2020. In 2021 he was again promoted to Fire Marshal. Pressler is in charge of code enforcement and fire investigations in the city of Clifton, helping to ensure that all buildings and businesses are in compliance with fire safety codes. His team also follows up on any complaints that are fire safety-related. They are responsible for public education, going into schools to teach children about fire safety, and conducting fire safety training for corporations and businesses.
Pressler shared some important tips for staying safe this holiday weekend and all year long. Residential fireworks have been a long-standing complaint in the community once the weather warms and throughout the summer months. Besides being a potential fire hazard, they are noisy and can frighten children, animals, and veterans who may be suffering from PTSD.
So what is actually legal for residents to use? Pressler said that anything you can buy locally in a legitimate storefront should be ok, as their inventory is regulated and inspected. In 2017 New Jersey updated its statute on fireworks - Under the New Jersey Explosives and Fireworks Act (N.J.S.A. 21:2-1 et seq., as amended by P.L.2017, C.92): a permit is required to sell, possess, or use fireworks without a permit everywhere in the state. Persons 16 years of age or older are permitted to buy, possess, and use certain sparkling devices and novelties. These permissible fireworks are limited to hand-held or ground-based sparklers, snakes, and glow worms; smoke devices; and trick noisemakers, including party poppers, snappers, and drop pops. Anything that launches into the air is strictly illegal, except by anyone holding a valid permit for fireworks displays. These permits are overseen and inspected by the Fire Marshal and his department.
Aside from being illegal, aerial fireworks pose a danger to neighborhoods - particularly ones as densely populated as Clifton is. Fireworks debris can land on a neighbor’s roof or in a gutter where hot embers can start a fire. This is especially true when conditions are dry following a period of no rain. If you can see them in the sky, they are not legal, except by permitted displays.
Last year, Pressler said, the CFD responded to a call where someone was shooting Roman candles out of a basement window. Roman candles are not legal for residents to use, as they shoot into the air. In this case, the exploded fireworks were bouncing back into the house through the window where they caused a fire. He cautioned that using common sense and following manufacturers’ directions were important steps for preventing fires, burns, and eye injuries when dealing with fireworks.
“People making wrong decisions unfortunately keeps the fire department in business,” he said.
Even sparklers, which are legal for residents to use, can be hazardous if not used correctly. These hand-held novelty items reach a burning temperature of over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. For reference, glass melts at only 800 degrees F. They require careful handling in order to prevent burns. If children are present, they must have vigilant parental supervision to make sure they aren’t going to be injured. “Common sense must prevail here,” Pressler said. Don’t use fireworks in tight areas between two houses or too close to your own house - any such devices should be kept a minimum of 15 feet away from anything combustible.
Similarly, residents should exercise caution when grilling - another popular warm-weather activity. Pressler said that every year there are a number of calls related to grill fires, usually caused by using a grill that wasn’t properly cleaned. A full grease tray can easily be ignited by a stray ember and erupt into flames. To prevent this, grills should be thoroughly cleaned once or twice a year, depending on how often the grill is used.
If you do experience a grease fire, do not throw a bucket of water on it. This can create an explosion of flames and lead to severe burns and/or fire spreading to nearby structures or property. Pressler suggests that you quickly put the lid down, as a fire deprived of oxygen will quickly go out. If you’re using gas, turn that off too. If the flames do not die down or if they are too close to the house, use a fire extinguisher to put them out.
In addition to making sure that your grill is at least 15 feet from any combustible surface - a house, deck railing, or bushes - you should always ensure that you know where your fire extinguisher is and that it is working before starting up the grill. If the siding on your house is starting to melt, you’re too close. Gas grills are not permitted on condo balconies because you can’t get far enough from the side of the house and a fire there threatens not only your home but everyone else in the building. Electric grills are generally permitted.
If everybody uses common sense, follows manufacturers’ recommendations, and remains aware of their surroundings, grilling is a safe and fun activity. With allowable fireworks, always make sure to use them responsibly and with enough clearance to avoid the risk of fire. Please remember to take your neighbors into account. “A bad decision on your part could ruin a lot of other people’s lives,” Pressler concluded.