Rhode Island Commission Proposes Fire Safety Law Changes

A Rhode Island commission with the long title of the Joint Commission to Study All Aspects of Law and Regulation Concerning Pyrotechnics Displays and Fire Safety recommended stronger fire safety laws for the state, including regulations requiring sprinkler systems in more buildings.

The 17-member committee was formed in the wake of the fire at the Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., that killed 100 people and injured dozens more. The committee's full report can be found at www.rilin.state.ri.us/FireFinalReport.pdf.

Investigators say pyrotechnics launched by the band Great White at the club on Feb. 20 caused acoustical ceiling tiles to catch fire, starting a blaze that moved quickly through the club. Many patrons at first thought the fire was part of the stage show. They were left scrambling for the exits minutes later.

As David Brennan, who testified before the commission said, "Everybody [victims and family members of victims] comes up here and speaks for about three minutes and in that time, 100 people died [at the Station]."

The first recommendation by the commission is to eliminate that grandfather clause effective Feb. 20, 2004. The commission also recommended the adoption of the Uniform Fire Code of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and NFPA 101, the Life Safety Code, for new and existing buildings by Feb. 20, 2004.

In testimony before the commission, survivors and family members of victims offered their suggestions and comments. Many of them encouraged ending the grandfather provision.

"As we sit here tonight, we realize that the code in its present state is unacceptiable," said Raymond Mattera. "The tragedy of the Station nightclub fire proves this point. A proposal…is to revoke the grandfather provisions."

Chrissy Robbins plainly stated, "Make it law to have these sprinklers installed."

Other recommendations made by the commission to the state legislature include:

  • Require fire alarms that are municipally connected in buildings with occupancies of 150 or greater and that are classified as "special amusement buildings."
  • Require sprinkler systems in all special amusement buildings with an occupancy of 150 or greater.
  • Require that all special amusement buildings with an occupancy less than 150 use fire retardant paints or other coverings.
  • Prohibit use of pyrotechnics in some places of assembly and allow them only in buildings that are fully fire alarmed and sprinklered.
  • Increase financial responsibility to $1 million for permits to possess or use commercial fireworks or pyrotechnics.
  • Give power of entry for purposes of inspections to fire marshals similar to those of other state and local inspectors.
  • Give power to fire marshals to order immediate abatement of hazards such as blocked exits or improper storage of flammable materials.
  • Give power to fire marshals to issue citations for violations that constitute imminent hazards.
  • Require inspections of businesses that have a Class B or C liquor license at least once annually during actual hours of operation when fire risks are highest.
  • Require two fire extinguishers.
  • Require that when alarm systems sound, all lights return to normal levels and any conflicting sound or visuals stop.
  • Require floor proximity exit signs for all venues with occupancy rates of 150 or more.
  • Prohibit the use of decorative or acoustical materials that are not certified or consistent with NFPA or other such requirements.

"The laws must change," one woman told the committee. "We can't have anyone else go through this because this is horrible. I'm never going to see my sister again."

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