Massachusetts considers nightclub sprinkler law

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Sunday, August 1, 2004

BOSTON - Massachusetts could require all bars and nightclubs that cater to 50 people or more to install fire sprinklers within three years, if a fire safety bill now under consideration in the senate is passed.

House Bill 4550 has cleared the house and is now under final discussion.

In its current state, the bill calls for a statutory crime for those businesses that defy the fire code. Violators will face a fine of up to $25,000 and/or imprisonment of up to five years. To renew or receive a liquor license, bars and nightclubs must submit a certificate of inspection to the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

Small business owners have expressed concerns over the bill, according to a spokesperson from the Senate Committee on Steering and Policy, which is handling the bill while the Senate discusses it. Those businesses that offer services for fewer than 75 people have complained about the burden of cost the bill will cause.

The bill originates from the fire at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island, where 100 people died in early 2003.

“The Joint Committee on Public Safety released a comprehensive bill that will do more to protect people in Massachusetts from the tragic consequences of fires,” said Sen. Jarrett T. Barrios, senate chair of the joint committee on public safety, who was closely involved in the creation of the bill, in a prepared statement.

In the weeks that followed the fire in Rhode Island, the National Fire Protection Association also addressed the issue and made Tentative Interim Amendments related to sprinkler protection for assembly occupancies. TIAs are additions to NFPA code that occur during its three-year cycle.

“We should make these changes in response to this incident,” said Robert Duval, senior fire investigator at NFPA, referring to NFPA’s response to the fire.

At its first meeting since the incident, according to Duval, the association took the position that “we should be progressive so that this never happens again.”

NFPA instituted codes that require any existing bars, dancehalls or nightclubs with occupancy levels of more than 100 people to install fire sprinklers. For new venues, the association states that all such businesses have these systems in place.