The outdoor dining scene to which New Yorkers became accustomed during the COVID-19 pandemic now hangs in the balance, as City Council members debate a bill permitting restaurants to keep using outdoor propane heaters.
The outdoor propane heaters were initially permitted across the city as a temporary emergency measure in the early days of the pandemic, when fears of virus transmission caused the city to ban indoor dining. To make outdoor dining bearable in the chill of winter 2020/21, outdoor heaters were introduced into the new outdoor seating areas.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in late October that he would not be renewing the temporary measure that allowed the propane tanks last year, citing safety concerns.
The FDNY Smart website, a nonprofit organization aﬃliated with the city’s Fire Department, states, “The use of kerosene or propane space heaters is strictly prohibited and illegal in New York City. Kerosene and propane space heaters pose a high risk of death and injury, and generate carbon monoxide.” The site advises New Yorkers to use approved electric heaters instead.
In lieu of the propane heaters, de Blasio is oﬀering small businesses a grant to finance their purchase of electric heaters.
However, some restaurant owners and employees are disgruntled at the potential disruption of their heating situation. They argue that electric heaters are in short supply and less eﬀective than their propane counterparts.
City Council Member Keith Powers introduced a bill in November that would amend the city’s fire code to allow the propane heaters again, but at the time of publication no information has been released regarding a decision on the bill.