R.I. Fire Board Urged to Update Fire Codes without Legislation

September 27, 2007

The Rhode Island state board responsible for overseeing Rhode Island’s fire code should update its own regulations and should seek change through the General Assembly only as a “last resort,” said Senate President Joseph Montalbano.

State legislators this year considered, but did not pass, a bill that would have relaxed stringent and expensive fire codes enacted after a 2003 nightclub fire that killed 100 people.

Since then, Gov. Don Carcieri and several lawmakers have encouraged the Fire Safety Code Board of Appeal and Review to enact some of the proposed changes through regulations — rather than legislation.

Montalbano echoed that idea this week as the fire safety board began a review of the codes.

But he also said the Senate would respond if there were proposals that could not be handled through regulations. The board, for instance, is not authorized to offer tax relief to businesses required to make expensive changes to comply with the code.

A legislative advisory committee met this year to study the effects of the fire code enacted after the Feb. 20, 2003 fire at The Station nightclub, which began when a rock band’s pyrotechnics ignited flammable soundproofing foam on the walls.

Business owners had complained that the new codes — which, among other changes, removed grandfather protections from older buildings and added special requirements for nightclubs — were too burdensome and expensive.

The bill proposed last spring would have provided alternative options for sprinkler and alarm systems and offered a tax credit to businesses forced to install new sprinklers or fire alarms. It also proposed exempting certain theaters from sprinkler requirements if they doubled their exit capacity.


Information from: The Providence Journal, http://www.projo.com/

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