Special to CONTRACTOR
WASHINGTON — At a press conference at the base of the Capitol March 13, U.S. Reps. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., and Curt Weldon, R-Pa., called on states to adopt tougher safety precautions, including fire sprinklers, for places of public gathering. Weldon and Langevin were joined by a survivor from the West Warwick, R.I., fire, Bob Cushman, and by Rhode Island state Rep. Peter Ginaitt, who is also a firefighter and triage nurse who was at the scene of the fire.
The participants expressed their deepest sympathies to the families who lost loved ones in the tragic fire, while declaring their frustration with the senseless circumstances surrounding the tragic event.
“It is disgraceful that in this day and age, going to a concert or a night club is a life-threatening event,” Weldon said. “A simple sprinkler system and knowledge of safety exits could have turned a horrific tragedy that resulted in nearly 100 deaths, into an incident that ended a concert early.”
Langevin noted: “I am pleased that Congress has recognized the desperate need for increased fire safety in nonresidential buildings after the horrific fire in my district that took 99 lives and left close to 200 injured. States and municipalities face a new challenge after this terrible tragedy to ensure that all places of public assembly are properly equipped with the necessary exits and fire- suppression systems to avert another disaster. I call on all states to re-examine their fire safety regulations and make improvements where necessary.”
Cushman, a 40-year-old consultant, said he survived by mere chance because it was his turn to go buy the beers.
“I know, regardless of all the other factors that led to this tragic event, if The Station nightclub was equipped with a functioning sprinkler system the number of lives lost and the hundreds of burn victims would have been greatly reduced,” Cushman said. “The safety measures being discussed today by Congressman Langevin will unquestionably save many lives.”
The congressmen announced their efforts to create a task force designed to draft common-sense legislation that may result in tax incentives or changes in depreciation guidelines for owners of older buildings that want to install sprinkler systems. Many buildings built before 1974 are often exempt from installing the expensive systems.
“Many business owners and landlords want to do the right thing by installing sprinkler systems, however the often prohibitive costs are preventing their installation. This means that the longer we wait, the longer we continue to put lives at risk,” Weldon said. “If we can justify tax incentives to purchase certain types of automobiles or business investments, we can justify incentives for life-saving sprinkler systems.”
Ginaitt noted that, having witnessed the tragedy, that it’s critical that states and municipalities reassess their fire safety codes and standards.
“I want to thank Congressman Langevin for bringing this issue to the national stage so that other states are aware about the potential dangers that may lie in their places of public gathering,” Ginaitt said. “Simply put, this should not have happened, and now that we have all been warned, should never occur again.”
The participants called upon states to adopt new safety precautions, such as requiring nightclubs and other concert venues to inform patrons about safety measures and exit locations before concerts and shows begin.
Langevin pointed out that while retrofitting sprinklers may be expensive, the events of Feb. 20 showed it’s impossible to put a price on human life. Langevin said he would work with others in Congress to create incentives for businesses to make fire safety modifications.
Weldon, a former volunteer fire chief and founder of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, has been an outspoken member of Congress with regard to fire and emergency services issues.