By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
MELVINDALE – The Public Safety Commission requested on July 12 that the city clerk revoke a gas pump refurbishing company’s business license following a July 3 fire at the business that caused nearly $250,000 in damages.
City Clerk Diana Zarazua said on Aug. 2 that she deferred the decision to the City Council, which met on Aug. 3 but did not act on the request from the commission.
Mayor Stacy Striz said on Aug. 3 she and Zarazua had just started talking about the request a couple of days ago, and based on a resident complaint, the Fire Department had initiated an investigation.
Fire Chief Joseph Murray said at the Aug. 3 council meeting that his department investigated the business — Fueling Systems Sales, 17625 Allen Road — with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, but he does not yet have the results of the investigation.
Striz said she would put it on the agenda for the Aug. 17 City Council meeting.
At the July 12 Public Safety meeting, Commissioner Patty Hall asked how flammable gas pumps slated for sale after refurbishing could be stored so closely to a residential area, and how something like that was approved.
Documents obtained July 22 through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Police Department indicate that owner Samuel Chahrour, 51, of Dearborn, said he lost 24 gas pump units, worth about $10,000 each, which he was storing on site outside until they could be refurbished or re-purposed and sold. As many as seven other pumps were damaged. Chahrour said the side of his building was damaged as well.
“What is the safety of those?” Hall asked. “What are they there for? How safe are they? I was informed that they were safe. Well, obviously they are not because something can happen now. And (Chahrour) even stated that there is always some gas in there, so they are a danger.”
Deputy Fire Chief Steven Densmore said that when Chahrour first started his business, he had only five or six pumps, and he went through the proper channels for permits. Since he began, the business has grown significantly. He has bought another lot, and there are many more gas pumps stored on site.
“It has always been a concern of mine,” Densmore said. “I am surprised (the fire) stopped where it did. (Chahrour) did come before the city council and said his pumps were not in danger of anything. But as we all know, it’s not the flames that get you, it’s the fumes.”
Hall expressed concern about the houses in close proximity to the business, and said she wanted the gas pumps removed.
“We have Marathon, we have the gas company, we have this and that,” Hall said. “We are just encircled by all these things that are going to explode or catch on fire.”
Councilman Wheeler Marsee said Chahrour’s business was not approved by the City Council; the matter would have been handled by the Planning Commission. He said the Planning Commission can approve businesses for the city without the council’s approval.
Corporation Counsel Lawrence Coogan said the city has a business licensing procedure that the City Council follows. Auto sales and mechanics are an exception to the rule, and do not fall under council jurisdiction.
Coogan said the City Council can approve new businesses in the city as long as they are in compliance with city ordinances and laws. New business applications then go to the planning commission for approval.
Hall asked why businesses like Chahrour’s don’t go to the Public Safety Commission before they go to the planning commission.
Coogan had no specific reply for Hall, but said the city could limit the number of gasoline tanks Chahrour could store on the property, but he implied that there is not a “safe” number.
“It’s like having ‘how many sticks of dynamite are safe to have on your property?’” he said. “One? Ten? Or perhaps an ordinance that would require then to evacuate all the gasoline from those tanks before storing them on the property?”
Hall said when she saw a second fire in two days in Melvindale — it was two days after the massive DTE fire — she felt compelled to seek change.
“This is ridiculous,” Hall said. “We are surrounded by this. Why isn’t (Chahrour) out in some farm country where there is 25 acres and he could put as many of those things as he wants instead of in our neighborhood? This is a small town. I don’t want it to blow up.”
Marsee said the city clerk has the authority to pull a business license for non-compliance with public safety.
Hall motioned to request the city clerk to withdraw or suspend Chahrour’s business license, citing the health, safety and welfare issues surrounding the facility, and the fire that took place on his property as reasons. The motion passed.
At 11:30 p.m. July 3 officers received a call for a fire in DeLuca Field to the south of Chahrour’s property, which was reportedly spreading quickly toward the outside area where the gas pumps were stored.
Officers contacted two residents of Henry Street, Kimberly Gubbini and Keith Viger, who live directly behind behind Fueling System Sales. The pair said they lit off fireworks earlier, but stopped before 11 p.m., 30 minutes before the fire was reported.
Gubbini said she tried to put the fire out with an extinguisher when she saw the flames. She said city officials had assured residents that the gas pumps stored on site were to be emptied of any flammable liquids. She expressed anger that the gas pumps could have exploded and burned nearby houses.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected])