R.I. Fire Marshal Says Most Nightclubs Meet Code; Reporting Changes Sought

March 20, 2006

Rhode Island Governor Donald L. Carcieri today publicly released an updated report on the status of compliance with the new fire codes indicating that a majority (99) of nightclubs throughout the state are currently in compliance with the sprinkler and fire alarm provisions of the state fire codes.

While the majority of nightclubs are in compliance with the fire code, the report also indicates that a significant number of nightclubs do not currently have the required sprinklers or alarms.

Currently, two nightclubs with occupancy over 300 do not have either the sprinklers or the alarms required by state law. An additional four nightclubs with occupancy over 300 do not have sprinklers.

Of nightclubs with 150 to 299 occupancy rates, 10 do not currently have the alarms that are already required or the sprinklers that will be required by July 1, 2006. An additional 10 are currently in compliance with municipally connected fire alarm requirements, but have yet to install the sprinklers that will be required on July 1st.

Finally, 24 nightclubs have applied to the Rhode Island Fire Safety Code Board of Appeal and Review for a variance from the fire code requirements. Compliance deadlines for those nightclubs will be set by the board at scheduled hearings.

Information contained in the report is based on data that was reported to the Rhode Island State Fire Marshal’s Office by the inspectors employed by the local communities.

Rhode Island’s fire code required all nightclubs rated with a capacity of 150 or more people to install municipally connected alarm systems by July 1, 2004. Nightclubs with occupancy ratings of 300 were also required to install sprinklers by July 1, 2005. Nightclubs with a capacity of 150 to 299 will be required to install sprinklers by July 1, 2006.

State law defines a nightclub as a place of accommodation with a capacity over 100 people that provides entertainment and derives the majority of its income from the sale of beverages and/or cover charges.

Carcieri said that the State Fire Marshal is in the process of contacting every facility currently considered out of compliance to conduct direct inspections and to give them 30 days to show that they are in compliance, to apply for a variance, or to come into compliance with state law.

“This report makes it clear that we have made significant progress in improving the safety of nightclubs throughout the state,” Carcieri maintained. “But it also shows that we have more work to do. This updated compliance data will help us drive forward the process of ensuring that every nightclub in Rhode Island has the sprinklers and alarm systems required by the new fire code.”

Carcieri said that getting up-to-date compliance information on a regular basis continues to be very difficult because the responsibility for inspections falls on the local communities and on the assistant deputy state fire marshals that they employ. The State Fire Marshal’s Office does not inspect the vast majority of these venues but relies upon local officials. But nothing in state law explicitly requires those local inspectors to report their findings back to the State Fire Marshal’s Office in any systematic fashion.

“Consequently, at any given time, state authorities have an incomplete picture of the compliance status of most nightclubs and other facilities throughout the state,” Carcieri said. “It is only when we conduct a survey of all the fire districts that we get an accurate snapshot of where we are as a state.”

He said that the fact that the State Fire Marshal’s Office does not have direct authority over the day-to-day activities of local inspectors is a “major flaw” in the current system, and he has asked the State Police and the State Fire Marshal’s Office to study this question and to recommend changes. “At a minimum, we must ensure that the State Fire Marshal is receiving up-to-date information from local inspectors on a regular basis,” the governor maintained.

Source: R.I. Governor’s Office

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