Mass. Sprinkler Confusion

Many Boston establishments are lacking sprinklers despite a new law requiring their installation, but bureaucracy could be to blame.

Massachusetts requires establishments with capacities of 100 or more to have sprinklers – a law enacted because of The Station nightclub fire of 2003. Venues had until November 15th to comply before being shut down by fire marshals.

However, only 22 Boston establishments have installed sprinklers since the law passed in 2004, according to the Boston Globe. Of the 283 bars and nightclubs that needed sprinklers according to Boston fire officials, 109 have earned waivers and 28 are poised to get exceptions, according to the paper.

Another 85 waited until the last minute to take steps toward installation and get deadline extensions.

But the law is confusing, according to lawmakers and entertainment industry reps, leading to differing interpretations among local authorities, exemptions that can be exploited and a lack of penalties for noncompliance, the Globe reported.

For instance, if establishments did not obtain waivers, owners were required to submit contracts and letters of intent by May 2006 that would show compliance by November 2007. However, the law did not specify a penalty, so many establishments held off on installation, hoping for a reprieve or an extension, the paper said.

Terence Connaughton, executive director of the Massachusetts Licensed Beverage Association that represents 475 establishments told the Globe the system has led to uneven application of the law.

"These guys talk to each other all the time: ‘You’ve got a menu. I’ve got a menu. You’ve got a chef, I’ve got a chef. You’ve got a jukebox, I’ve got a jukebox," Connaughton said. "I have to get sprinklered and you don’t?

"This has never been about trying to not do the right thing for fire safety at all," he said. "This has always been about confusion and lack of detail in the law."