10th Anniversary of the Station Nightclub Fire: Massachusetts Clubs Much Safer
February 20, 2013 will mark the 10th anniversary of the deadly Rhode Island nightclub fire at “The Station” that killed 100 people, many of whom were from Massachusetts. “In Massachusetts, we were determined to learn the lessons of the Station nightclub and make our clubs safer for the public and to prevent such a tragedy from occurring in our own state,” said State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan. Fire officials estimate that over 770 venues, not including those in Boston, have been sprinklered as a result of sweeping changes that were enacted in August 2004 as the result of the landmark legislation referred to as the Massachusetts Fire Safety Act.
In response to the tragic fire, the administration convened the Secretary’s Task Force on Building and Fire Safety, made up of fire and building officials, club owners, parents who lost children in the fire, and other important stakeholders. They produced a report in September 2003 making 34 recommendations in seven categories including: sprinklers, egress, pyrotechnics, interior finishes, training and education, laws and regulations, and funding and resources. All of the recommendations were considered by the appropriate regulatory agencies or governing bodies and nearly all were implemented.
Some of the most important accomplishments are:
- sprinklering existing nightclubs with a capacity of 100 or more;
- sprinklering new nightclubs with a capacity of 50 or more;
- requiring trained crowd managers when clubs are open;
- completion of daily safety checks;
- banning the use of indoor pyrotechnics except under limited circumstances;
- tying liquor license renewal to safety inspections by fire and building officials;
- creating enhanced penalties for violating building and fire codes and for knowingly putting the public at risk, and
- creating a streamlined ticketing system for enforcing fire and building codes.
Trained Crowd Managers
To date, nearly 17,000 people have completed and passed the on-line crowd manager training program. Nightclubs must have at least one trained crowd manager on duty, for every 100 people, whenever the club is open to the public. Crowd managers are required to conduct a daily safety inspection using a checklist in addition to directing patrons to safety during an emergency.
Ban of Pyrotechnics
Use of pyrotechnics in bars and nightclubs is banned. Limited use of pyrotechnics is allowed in certain sprinklered theaters and large venues (such as the TD Garden). A permit from the fire department has always been required.
Inspections Tied to Liquor Licenses
Safety inspections by fire and building officials are now required in order to obtain or renew liquor licenses. This includes ensuring no building or fire code violations exist and in addition, where required, there are trained crowd managers on staff and that the daily safety checklists are completed.
Enhanced Criminal Penalties
Enhanced criminal penalties were enacted for those who cause death or injury by violating certain fire and building codes. In 2012, three Quincy landlords were convicted of man-slaughter in the first application of the new law, MGL C 148, S 34B. They had rented an illegal basement apartment with only one means of egress, which violated the building code, and contributed to the death of a man and his two young children, and also left his wife badly burned as she tried to escape the fire.
In addition, substantial criminal penalties were created for allowing dangerous conditions in public assembly buildings, including blocked ingress or egress, shutting off or failing to maintain fire protection systems, storing flammables or explosives, using fireworks or pyrotechnics without a permit, and exceeding occupancy limits. The first violation results in a fine of not more than $5,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 2½ years. Subsequent violations may result in a fine of up to $25,000 and/or imprisonment of up to five years (MGL C 148, S 34A).
A two-strike rule was created for bars, nightclubs, discotheques, etc. with occupancies of less than 100 that exceed capacity. If a club is cited for an occupancy violation twice in a year, or exceeds its capacity by more than 50%, automatic sprinklers must be installed within 90 days or the business will be shut down (MGL C 148, S 26 G1/2). Brockton’s Emu Safari club was the first nightclub required to install sprinklers due to overcrowding.
Ticketing System of Code Enforcement
A statewide non-criminal ticketing system was implemented that streamlines enforcement of fire and building codes. This program has been adopted in 189 communities to date. Communities are required to select and train a hearings officer in order to participate in this method of code enforcement (MGL C 148A). Violations are subject to $100, $500, and $1,000 fines for a respective 1st, 2nd, or 3rd violation of the applicable code requirements.
In recalling the 10th anniversary of the deadly Rhode Island nightclub fire, Coan said “The recent nightclub fire in Brazil, which killed over 230 brought back memories of the tragic Station nightclub fire and once again served to remind us all of the need for and importance of the strong fire prevention laws, which are now in place in Massachusetts.”