Special to CONTRACTOR
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Rhode Island General Assembly has passed a new fire sprinkler retrofit law for nightclubs in response to the deadly fire at The Station nightclub that killed 100 persons (March, pg. 1). The legislation, the Comprehensive Fire Safety Act of 2003, passed both houses by unanimous votes.
The state opted to repeal the grandfather exemption that blank sprinklers out of older structures as of Feb. 20, 2004, the one-year anniversary of the fire. The state also adopted National Fire Protection Association standards.
The law will require nightclubs and restaurants that serve alcohol with occupancies between 150 and 300 persons to be sprinklered by July 1, 2006. Larger nightclubs will have to be sprinklered by July 1, 2005.
All clubs with capacities of 150 people or more will be required to have exit signs near the floor that would be less likely to be obstructed by smoke. Indoor pyrotechnics will be banned in all but the largest facilities.
The new law also beefs up the state fire marshal’s office, gives local inspectors more authority to enforce state fire safety regulations and requires that alarms systems be connected to local fire departments.
The law is based on recommendations from a 17-member legislative commission that studied Rhode Island building and safety codes for nine weeks.
Shortly after the fire occurred, Rich Skinner, the northeast regional manager for the National Fire Sprinkler Association and a former firefighter himself, set up a test with the help of the Tyco Research & Development Laboratory in Cranston, R.I. Researchers built a mock-up of the nightclub inside the lab.
During the test fire, Skinner and the other researchers found that a single pendent extinguished the fire.