R.I. fires sparks sprinkler debate

Friday, August 1, 2003

QUINCY, Mass. - A standards setting body of the National Fire Protection Association was set in late July to hand down a decision on several proposed amendments that would change life safety requirements of certain establishments, including the use of automatic fire sprinklers and occupancy restrictions, following February’s two fatal nightclub incidents.
At press time, members of the NFPA Standards Council were expected to meet on July 25 to hand down their decision on seven Tentative Interim Amendments to two of NFPA’s codes, NFPA 101 Life Safety Code and NFPA 5000 Building Code. A final decision was expected shortly after the meeting.

The proposed changes, which were approved and sent to the Standards Council by the NFPA’s Technical Committee on Assembly Occupancies earlier in July, include the use of sprinkler systems for all new nightclub-type facilities and for existing similar facilities with an occupancy of more than 100.

Also under consideration by the Standards Council are three TIAs that address crowd management issues, such as the role of bouncers or security guards responsible for crowds, restrictions on festival seating and added inspection requirements of occupancies.

The changes being debated by NFPA officials mirror those that became law in Rhode Island last month under the Comprehensive Fire Safety Act of 2003, legislation drafted following the fatal Feb. 20 fire at The Station Nightclub in West Warwick, R.I.

NFPA’s requirements under review are more stringent than the ones adopted in that state, according to Casey Grant secretary of the NFPA Standards Council, because NFPA standards, particularly NFPA 101, covers life safety requirements in both new construction and in existing structures as opposed to state laws, which commonly provided grandfather clauses for many existing buildings.

Rhode Island was expected to change that clause, however, with the elimination of the grandfather clause. That new rule would take effect on the one-year anniversary of The Station fire and would adopt NFPA 101 as the regulations for buildings formerly under the grandfather clause. (See related story)

While many of the TIAs under consideration stem directly from a March occupancy committee meeting and emotional public forum, where families of the victims spoke, the committee revised six of the amendments because “at the March 13 meeting, the committee did not have all the information that they would have liked,” Grant said. A number of TIAs were also received from the International Fire Marshal’s Association, he said.

The Standards Council’s decision will effective within 20 days of the council’s issuance.