Bob Dunning

Bob Dunning: You want power? Be the fire director

By From page A2 | November 18, 2012

It was a rainy, breezy, drippy and even sometimes sunny Saturday afternoon, though the brief moments of full sunshine seemed devoid of warmth.

I returned home from a quick errand to find a message on the answering machine. It was a kind woman named Marlene — I could tell she was kind by her voice and her demeanor — and she had an important question.

“I want to start a fire this afternoon,” she said, making me wonder if I had a firebug on my hands and should be calling the Fire Department or the police or maybe both.

My fears were put to rest as I listened to the rest of the message and she repeated that “I want to start a fire this afternoon, in my fireplace.”

Still a potential felony in this town, but not as dangerous as I originally thought.

Marlene went on to explain that since I had written about the wood smoke ordinance on more than one occasion, she presumed I would just automatically know if it were a “burn” day or a “no-burn” day. A sort of modern-day Paul Revere, racing around town with the warning, “one if by barbecue, two if by chimney.”

So I pulled out my copy of the ordinance and found that even if it were a “no-burn” day, there were some exceptions to the rule. Before calling Marlene back, I read up just to be sure I wouldn’t be passing out any false information.

First, if she has an “EPA Phase II certified wood-burning device or a pellet-fueled wood burning heater,” she’s apparently OK any day of the week.

But, before she strikes that match, she should know that her exemption exists only “provided that the devices do not emit visible emissions, except for one period of not more than 20 minutes within any consecutive four-hour period during the start-up of a new fire.”

Now I’m imaging that part of my new duties as Wood Smoke Marshal will require me to show up at Marlene’s house with a lawn chair and a stop watch. Given the weather, I’m not relishing the task.

Then again, Marlene will be free to burn without restriction if “no gas or electrical heating system is installed in the structure and the wood-burning device is the sole source of interior heat for the structure.”

I’m wondering if that includes the oven or the microwave, not to mention the clothes dryer.

Additionally, “The director (presumably me) may issue a wavier from the prohibition set forth in this chapter for the heating of a residence if the director (me again) determines that there are compelling economic reasons to grant the waiver that outweigh the adverse impacts to the environment.”

Before I can make such a determination, I’ll have to check the status of the polar ice cap, the surface temperature in Antarctica and the fisheries in Greenland. I’ll also need Marlene’s tax returns.

I’ll also, according to the regulations, need to determine the “type of dwelling and age.” Whether that’s the home’s age or Marlene’s is unclear, but I know it’s not polite to ask a woman how old she is.

I’ll also need a copy of her utility bills just in the case the heater really does work.

“The director will grant or deny the waiver, in writing, within 10 working days of the receipt of the application. If the director does not respond to the application within 10 working days, the request is deemed denied.”

Ah yes, the old pocket veto. What a powerful guy I am.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]

Bob Dunning

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