The tragic nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I., took place nearly four years ago, but some nightclub owners are just beginning to be hit with its repercussions.
Bars and clubs in Massachusetts with capacities of 100 or more had until November 15th to install sprinkler systems. In the state of Washington, clubs are about a year away from the same crunch time.
More than 230 Massachusetts businesses have appealed orders to install sprinklers, according to the Boston Globe, and the state Fire Safety Commission has rejected 72 appeals on procedural grounds. Twelve businesses have fought their classifications as nightclubs and won.
The Globe used for example the owner of the Beira Alta Restaurant in Fall River who will need to shell out $130,000 for the upgrade. In the last decade, owner Al Sarmento has paid for a fire alarm system, panic doors and other safety features. He met the requirements of being a nightclub because Beira Alta has a bar that stays open after the kitchen closes and because the restaurant offers musical entertainment.
“There are scores of fatalities from car accidents every year, but manufacturers aren’t forced to retrofit older cars with costly side-impact air bags,” the Globe said in an editorial. “The restaurants deserve to be heard beyond an appeals board hearing room; politicians should change the sprinkler mandate.”
Rhode Island facilities are also facing a similar deadline.
On the Left Coast, more than 30 Seattle nightclubs have 13 months to meet a sprinkler mandate. The law also applies to clubs with an occupancy of 100 or more that offer live or recorded music entertainment. Nightclub owners can circumvent the law if they lower their capacites, according to the Seattle Times.
“If I stopped doing music in order to conform to the law, then I couldn’t pay the bills, I couldn’t pay the rent,” a club owner told the paper.
One hundred people died and about 200 were injured at The Station club in West Warwick, R.I., February 20, 2003, when the building, which did not have sprinklers, burned to the ground.