Mass. Gov. Romney Inks Fire Safety Legislation

August 17, 2004

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Tuesday signed into law the Commonwealth’s most far-reaching fire safety legislation since the Cocoanut Grove fire in 1942, strengthening the state’s laws to prevent tragedies like the 2003 Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island.

“Sadly, it often takes a tragedy to bring to light inadequacies in certain laws,” Romney said. “After the Cocoanut Grove fire claimed nearly 500 lives in 1942, the first comprehensive statewide fire safety law was put in place. Last year, another 100 lives were needlessly lost in The Station nightclub fire, including 33 from Massachusetts. The tragic events of that night sent a clear message that, once again, our fire safety statutes needed to be updated.”

“Today, I am proud to sign the most far-reaching overhaul of the state’s fire safety laws in over 60 years,” Romney noted.

In the wake of the Rhode Island Station nightclub fire last year that left 100 dead and almost 200 injured, Romney formed a 32-member Task Force on Fire & Building Safety to review the Commonwealth’s fire safety laws and regulations. Their findings served as the foundation of the legislation Romney signed into law.

Highlights of the new law:

* Mandates sprinklers in nightclubs with an occupancy of 100 persons or more within three years.

* Creates a two-strike rule for clubs with occupancies of less than 100 that exceed capacity. If a club is cited for an occupancy violation twice in a year, automatic sprinklers must be installed within 90 days or the business will be shut down;

* Eases the financial burden on businesses complying with the new law by putting in place an accelerated tax depreciation deduction for the purchase of automatic sprinkler systems required to be installed as a retrofit in existing nightclubs, discotheques, dance halls and bars from the current 39 years to five years;

* Creates criminal penalties for dangerous conditions in public assembly buildings, including blocking ingress or egress; shutting off or failing to maintain fire protection systems; storing flammables or explosives; and using fireworks or pyrotechnics without a permit and exceeding occupancy limits. The first infraction will result in a fine of not more than $5,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 2½ years. Subsequent infractions will result in a fine of up to $25,000 and/or imprisonment of up to five years;

* Establishes criminal penalties for individuals who violate provisions of the state building or fire codes when a violation results in significant injury or death. Violations may result in a fine of up to $25,000 and/or imprisonment of up to five years; and

* Restores the Student Awareness of Fire Education (SAFE) program, which helps educate children about fire safety awareness, and provides grants to municipalities to assist in the purchase of firefighter safety equipment.

“Let there be no misunderstanding here, this was a long struggle that turned into a battle and this time the good guys won,” James Gahan, a member of the task force who lost his son Jimmy at The Station nightclub, commented..

State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said, “Today we pay lasting tribute to those who lost their lives in West Warwick by the enactment of these sweeping changes to fire safety in Massachusetts. While sprinklers are the cornerstone of this legislation, it goes much further and creates a safety net for the public.”

Holyoke Fire Chief David LaFond, president of the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts, added, “The Massachusetts fire services pledges to take the tools and resources in this law and do everything in our power to turn the tide of history to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring under our watch.”

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