How to get the fire marshal to bless your natural gas conversion

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Stepping out and embracing new technologies can be a lonely venture, especially if you’re one of a very small group of people who understand what you’re trying to accomplish.

Shop owners looking to expand into natural gas service have found this out on more than one occasion. Many local officials don’t understand natural gas enough to be helpful in conversion. And that’s unfortunate because there is a laundry list of requirements for such an investment.

Among the major concerns in converting an existing facility to service natural gas is the unintended release and ignition of gasses while the truck is in the bay. So, naturally, many of the requirements center on ventilation. But there is no shortage of other regulations and codes and, too, there is no shortage of interpretations.

What worked for your service point in Cleveland might not work for your location in Cincinnati, even if your plans are exactly the same.

Your local fire marshal will likely have the final say-so over your conversion process, and his interpretation of local codes will guide their decisions and your retrofit.

However, you stand a good chance of being the first person to ask for his/her input on a CNG/LNG shop conversion, and that can lead to complications and delays.

(You can get dinged for a violation that your inspector isn’t even sure is an actual violation.)

Federal guidelines often serve as a minimum, with more stringent and detailed requirements spelled out at the local level. Not fully vetting what is needed from you at every level could lead to an unfortunate (and expensive) surprise.

During a task force discussion at the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) of the American Trucking As- sociations Fall Meeting in Orlando, Fla. last month, Patrick Seeberg, director of product management for MOTOR In- formation Systems, suggested consulting the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) before completing your final conversion design, because the local authority may enforce requirements beyond national codes.

In most cases, the AHJ will be a fire marshal or office charged with similar responsibilities, like an inspector.

Once you diagnose who that person is, Seeberg says to ask the AHJ what specific code documents have been adopted and which ones will be enforced. Be prepared to present a completed project scope and timeline.

During this meeting, it will be important to find out if the AHJ has experience with CNG/LNG installations.

If they don’t, be prepared to educate them.

Various fire marshals have no experience with natural gas in trucking applications, so there can be variances in their interpretations of the rules they are tasked to enforce.

Be prepared to coach or educate them.

Review existing codes with them, and if their interpretations vary greatly from a more common understanding, provide access to subject matter experts.

If you’re using an architect who specializes in CNG/LNG concessions, lean on them to help educate the fire marshal. If your architect is an expert in their field, you’re likely to find your development process will go much more smoothly.

It’s also important to involve other key city decision makers as the process unfolds.

Your mayor or councilman can help keep the fire marshal, and your project, on task.

Conversion of a service bay to natural gas is no small investment, but it doesn’t have to be an undertaking fraught with obstacles. By laying out a well-defined process in advance, and bringing all the players in your area to the table together, you’re setting the stage for success.

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