Kalamazoo food truck owners surprised by fire marshal announcement of code enforcement

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Kalamazoo food truck owners surprised by fire marshall announcement of code enforcement. (WWMT/File - MGN)

Some Kalamazoo food truck owners said they were blindsided by news that they would have to install fire suppression systems by the end of April, but the Kalamazoo Fire Marshal said they had plenty of time to prepare.

Kalamazoo Fire Marshal Jim Williams told many of the city's food truck owners in a meeting Tuesday night that trucks that cook food and create what's called grease-laden vapor would have to install fire suppression systems by April 29 or they could not continue to operate in the same capacity.

"Some of the truckers wasn't happy," Fred Blackwell, owner of Freddy's Food Hut, said.

Some food truck owners said the way the announcement was handled was not considerate of the time needed make the changes and it could force some out of business.

Blackwell was set for his third peak food truck season in Kalamazoo, which he said starts in May.

When he built his truck, he spent an extra $5,000 to install his fire suppressor. He said the announcement that his fellow food truck owners would need to install the systems by the end of the month took many by surprise.

"Because I’m quite sure everybody, just like us, they have contacts that are starting the first of next month, and to be able to meet those contacts at the first of the month, now you got to be up to code by the 29th, that’s gonna make it a little tight," he said.

Williams said the code isn't new, but it hasn't been enforced.

"They have needed it at least since 2009," he said. "We've talked to many of the mobile food vehicle folks for the last several years, telling them it was coming."

Williams said Kalamazoo was working to form a reciprocal agreement with surrounding communities, including Grand Rapids, Oshtemo, Comstock, Kalamazoo Township, Texas and Portage, so trucks could move between them without being reinspected, but all the communities have to uphold the same standards.

He said most of Kalamazoo's food trucks are up to code. For the ones that aren't, Blackwell said it will be hard for them to get the systems installed in time, but he said they should try.

"I don't want to be next to a person, they're not up to code, and their truck catch on fire, then they're gonna catch my truck on fire," he said. “What can you do? You either come up to standard or you sit at home.”

Safety is the main reason Williams said the city needs to start enforcing the code.

"We don't want them to get hurt. We don't want anybody to die," he said. "Making sure more vehicles are inspected and compliant will diminish that risk in our communities."

There's going to be an inspection rally on April 29 at the Osthemo Fire Station number two, which will also include an educational seminar on food truck operation safety.

Williams said the city may also be able to provide financial assistance to owners who need help getting the systems installed.

“If this is their pleasure and their joy in life to do this, we are willing to work with them, however, we do have to honor standards of others to have a valid agreement,” Williams said.

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