Mass. Clubs Appealing Year-Old Law Requiring Sprinklers

October 11, 2005

Dozens of restaurants and private clubs are appealing a state mandate in Massachusetts that they install sprinkler systems, arguing that they are being misclassified as nightclubs.

The Legislature last year passed a law requiring any club with an occupancy of 100 or more to install sprinklers within three years. The effort was inspired by The Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island, which killed 100 people.

A total of 113 establishments have appealed orders from fire departments requiring them to install sprinklers, officials told The Boston Globe. The state board hearing the appeals has reversed the chiefs’ orders in half of the 12 rulings it has made.

The changes were inspired by the Feb. 20, 2003, fire at The Station, in West Warwick, R.I., which started when a band’s pyrotechnics ignited soundproofing foam. Among the victims were 33 Massachusetts residents.

Many of the victims died while rushing to escape the overcrowded club.

Some establishments say they are being improperly classified, and that the activity inside the clubs is as important as the number of people.

“A fraternal organization that ends up having a spaghetti-and-meatball night is not a nightclub,” said Maurice Pilette, chairman of the state Automatic Sprinkler Appeals Board.

Pilette said that if a club holds regular parties featuring rock bands with light shows, alcohol, and crowding it is subject to the law.

The law directs local fire chiefs to decide which establishments have to install sprinklers. But state Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said it’s unclear how many must install sprinklers, or how many fire departments have completed their inspections.

Cost is a major concern among affected businesses. Pilette said installing sprinklers to a 5,000-square-foot nightclub would cost about $25,000.

The law also forces clubs with an occupancy of less than a 100 to install sprinklers if it is cited for occupancy violations twice within one year.

It establishes criminal penalties for creating dangerous conditions in public assembly buildings, including blocking exits or entrances, failing to maintain fire protection systems, storing flammables or explosives, and using pyrotechnics without a permit.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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