R.I. Weighs Fire Sprinkler Rule Extensions

July 12, 2004

Rhode Island businesses unprepared to meet deadlines for installing sprinklers were supposed to face penalties this month, under stringent fire-safety rules political leaders hailed as the toughest in the nation.

Few, if any, have, because sprinkler requirements, like other mandates approved after a West Warwick nightclub fire that claimed 100 lives, have proven easier to pass into law than to enforce.

Lawmakers have responded to pleas from businesses by giving a state board authority to roll back sprinkler deadlines — due to be phased in over the next two years — to 2008 for businesses that petition for extensions.

“It was a knee-jerk reaction,” chief deputy state fire marshal Michael DiMascolo said on of deadlines in the law approved last year. “We needed to assess things.”

The law also required the state fire marshal’s office to post on its Web site by Feb. 20 names of property owners who fail to comply with the new safety standards. No violators have been posted yet.

Local inspectors are expected to post the information to the Web site themselves, but there’s been too much confusion about the law’s requirements, DiMascolo said.

Other changes recently signed into law by Gov. Don Carcieri include exemptions for some schools, churches and buildings with seasonal use, such as summer camps. The definition of a nightclub was also clarified.

“The original definition of a nightclub was so broad, if you were having a spaghetti dinner in a basement with 50 people and you were serving wine, it could be construed that you needed a firefighter” present, DiMascolo said.

Carcieri last year insisted on the sprinkler deadlines, declaring at an outdoor bill-signing ceremony that they will help “make sure this never happens again.” The Station nightclub in West Warwick did not have sprinklers when a band’s pyrotechnics ignited flammable foam placed on the club’s walls as soundproofing.

The governor now says some businesses might deserve extra time to install sprinklers. He told The Associated Press he’ll oppose any attempt to roll back the sprinkler deadlines for all businesses required to install them.

“On balance, I take confidence that this is still the most comprehensive fire safety code in the nation,” he said.

Dave Lombardi, part-owner of Lombardi’s 1025 Club, in Johnston, has already petitioned the state for more time to install sprinklers he says could cost up to $250,000.

He said he couldn’t have met this month’s deadline to have plans in place to install sprinklers by next year. The law allows for occupancy permit reductions of up to 20 percent for businesses that failed to comply.

Bill Howe, chief of inspections for the state fire marshal, said he not aware of any businesses that have had occupancies reduced under the requirement.

Lombardi said it will take several months just to get engineering plans for sprinklers approved and claims there’s a shortage of contractors able to do the work.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.