Increase in complaints over fire pits in Syracuse has lawmakers looking for compromise

Aug 8, 2014

For many in central New York, this is fire pit season. In the city of Syracuse, common councilors are looking for ways to keep disputes about fire pits from burning out of control. Lawmakers have been receiving complaints from some homeowners who say their houses get filled with smoke from neighborhood fire pits.  

Fire pits are legal in the city. Deputy Fire Chief Stephen Cavuto says there is a very specific flow chart firefighters follow when they answer a complaint call about a fire pit.

“It starts by asking what’s burning," said Cavuto. "A fire that’s fed by gasoline is an illegal fire, and needs to be extinguished. A fire burning clean hard wood, is legal fire, as long as it’s safe enough distance from a structure, it’s contained in a safe vessel, and it’s being attended to at all times. So if you violate any of those things it becomes an illegal fire, and the fire department is charged to put it out.”  

That’s all the fire department can do. They can’t issue citations and there is no avenue for homeowners with repeat complaints to take. That’s what spurred common councilors into action. 

At a committee meeting this week, one west side resident who’s called the department 20 times to complain asked for relief. Other residents who like fires and follow the rules, don’t want the fire pit law changed.  
Lawmakers say they don’t want to make fire pits illegal. But they say there needs to be an avenue for homeowners who have chronic problems with smoke in their homes.

But Councilor Chad Ryan says it shouldn’t end there.

“The problem is the interpretation of this rule doesn’t leave people with issues any outlet, or anywhere to go,” said Ryan.

So lawmakers say they will try to create legislation that walks a fine line and find a way to give residents smoked out of their homes relief, while still allowing other homeowners the right to enjoy a fire in their back yard.