Rhode Island Senate OKs New Fire Safety Codes


The state Senate this week unanimously approved a host of changes to its fire safety laws affecting mostly commercial and government buildings. The House has already approved the new safety measures, which lawmakers say are among the most stringent in the nation.

At press time, it was reported that Gov. Don Carcieri was expected to sign the bill into law possibly this week.

Under the bill, the 37-page “Comprehensive Fire Safety Act of 2003,” sprinklers would be required by July 2006 in nightclubs that serve alcohol and have occupancies of at least 150 people. Other places of assembly with occupancies of 300 or more would also be required to install sprinklers by July 2005.

The building that housed The Station nightclub in West Warwick—where investigators believe a band’s pyrotechnics sparked a fast-moving blaze that ravaged the building, killed 100 people and injured nearly 200 in February—dates to the 1940s and did not have sprinklers. No criminal charges have been filed in the case. A grand jury is investigating.

Also under the bill, older commercial structures and buildings with four or more apartments would no longer be exempt from fire safety standards applied to new construction. Single and two-family housing units would not be affected by the more stringent standards.

Businesses have complained they won’t have time to meet some of the bill’s requirements.

Most of the recommendations come from a 17-member state commission formed to investigate the blaze and consider changes to state fire and building codes. The hearings included testimony from government and fire officials and experts in crowd control, insurance, real estate and pyrotechnics use.

The sprinkler requirements go beyond what the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends. The Quincy, Mass.-based association of fire experts currently recommends sprinklers for some public venues accommodating more than 300.

The association is considering recommending fire sprinklers in all nightclubs.

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