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December 18, 2013

Eastpointe fire marshal wins award for canister investigation

By Kevin Bunch
C & G Staff Writer

EASTPOINTE — An exploding canister in Eastpointe proved to be the catalyst for the deputy fire chief to be named “Fire Inspector of the Year” by the Oakland-Macomb Fire Prevention Society.

Deputy Fire Chief-Fire Marshal Ed Szymanski received the honor Dec. 6 during the society’s Christmas banquet, according to the society’s president, Brian Batten. Szymanski did not know he was getting the award in advance.

“You’re elected by your peers,” Batten said. “For the fire inspector (award), that’s basically you went above and beyond the normal call of duty, so to speak. Even doing their job, they make a significant impact on safety in their community and surrounding communities.”

“Obviously, it is a well-deserved award for Deputy Chief Szymanski. He went above and beyond what was required of him there,” he added.

Szymanski, who has served with the Eastpointe Fire Department for 21 years, said he received the award for his investigation into a CO2 canister that had exploded at Sullivan’s Bar on Nine Mile Road in June. The canister caused some major damage in the building, but no one was injured, he said.

“I just had a bad feeling because of the amount of damage and the condition of that bottle,” he said. “It was a steel bottle, and the way it was mangled gave me great cause for concern for what could possibly have done that.”

Szymanski decided to see if he could find out who had oversight of the bottles, calling the Michigan State Police before getting federal Department of Transportation investigators involved. They found the bottles were not being hydrostatically tested, as required by federal safety regulations, and were able to find the company responsible, fine them, and require a recall notice to go out.

Szymanski then contacted all the fire marshals and inspectors he could get contact information for throughout the state so they could contact their local businesses and inspect any CO2 canisters they may have.

“I’m just glad we were able to warn all these people, so that potentially no one else was injured or worse,” Szymanski said. “It’s all about life safety. That’s what fire prevention is about, so I’m glad nothing else happened.”

Batten said the canisters are generally nonflammable, and Szymanski’s warnings had gotten hundreds of cylinders returned for safety checks. Some of those came from businesses that otherwise would not have learned about the recall notice.

“When you think about the compressed gas cylinder, it may not be a flammable gas, but it’s under pressure,” Batten said. “It did significant damage to a bar, and if anyone had been in the area at the time, they could have been significantly hurt or killed. It’s not something fire inspectors typically look at, to check the hydrostatic test date on compressed gas cylinders, let alone nonflammable ones, so this kind of awakened a lot of us that you need to step up and do a little better job.”

Batten said the Department of Transportation also sent out personnel to train fire inspectors on the hazards of those canisters when they are not properly maintained, and that Szymanski’s work brought a new level of safety to people living in Michigan.

Eastpointe Public Safety Director John McNeilance said Szymanski had done “really good” work on his investigation.

“We’re proud of the work he did and the award that he received from the fire prevention society,” McNeilance said.

Szymanski said he had never been nominated for a firefighting award prior to this, and winning had been a pleasant surprise to him.

“I was very humbled and honored that I was even considered,” Szymanski said.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Kevin Bunch at kbunch@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.