The fourth deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history, a blaze at The Station nightclub in W. Warwick, RI, on February 20, 2003, claimed 100 lives. After the fire, NFPA enacted tough new code provisions for fire sprinklers and crowd management in nightclub-type venues. Those provisions mark sweeping changes to the codes and standards governing safety in assembly occupancies.
Video: Station nightclub fire survivor Robert Feeney.talks about his experience the night of the fire and how it later led to his work as a sprinkler advocate.
Summary of NFPA code changes since Rhode Island and E2 Nightclub tragedies
Within hours of the Rhode Island fire, NFPA made available a wide range of safety information relating to public places of assembly. This included safety tips for club-goers; statistical and historical information about other major nightclub fires, NFPA Journal® articles, and links to NFPA fire investigation summaries of similar events. In addition, portions of relevant codes and standards were made available online, as well as an inspection checklist for assembly occupancies.
Three weeks after the Rhode Island nightclub fire, the NFPA Technical Committee on Assembly Occupancies and Membrane Structures held an emergency meeting in Boston. Some 30 committee members and alternates, as well as Station survivors, victims' families, and members of the fire-safety community, gathered to discuss the Station fire and a similar crowd-crush incident that killed 21 people not long before at Chicago's E2 nightclub (February 17, 2003).
Participants of the meeting proposed that NFPA issue emergency code amendments, called Tentative Interim Amendments (TIAs). TIAs, which are processed in accordance with Section 5 of NFPA's Regulations Governing Committee Projects, are emergency changes to an NFPA document code or standard that occurs between the current edition and next edition of that particular document. These code changes are considered tentative because they have only been approved by the technical committee and NFPA's Standards Council, but have not gone yet to go through the full codes- and standards-making process that includes a review by the public through the proposal and comment phases in the revision process. The TIAs are effective only between editions of a document and automatically become a proposal for the next edition, when it's then subject to all of the procedures of the entire open-consensus revision process.
As a result of the tentative nature of these amendments, jurisdictions must adopt TIAs independently of their adoption of the relevant NFPA document. At this point, some jurisdictions have opted to use the TIAs as guidance towards establishing their own legislation. In an effort to provide jurisdictions with codes and standards addressing the latest issues in building and life safety, NFPA offers support services, including free training, to assist state and local officials with adoption of these TIAs as well as the adoption of major NFPA codes and standards.
On July 25, 2003, the Standards Council reviewed and issued the technical committee's recommended TIAs for NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, 2003 edition, and NFPA 5000®, Building Construction & Safety Code®, 2003 edition. The TIAs, which went into effect August 14, 2003, require the following changes:
- fire sprinklers in new nightclubs and similar assembly occupancies and in existing facilities that accommodate more than 100
- building owners to inspect exits to ensure they're free of obstructions and to maintain records of each inspection
- The presence of at least one trained crowd manager for all gatherings, except religious services. For larger gatherings, additional crowd managers are required at a ratio of 1:250
- Prohibit festival seating for crowds of more than 250 unless a life-safety evaluation approved by the authority having jurisdiction has been performed. Festival seating, according to NFPA 101®, is a form of audience/spectator accommodation in which no seating, other than a floor or ground surface, is provided for the audience to gather and observe a performance
- Read the TIAs related to assembly occupancies for NFPA 101 and NFPA 5000. (PDF, 159 KB)
"Safety codes like NFPA 101 and NFPA 5000 reflect the will of society on these type of important technical issues," said James M. Shannon, president of NFPA, "and it will take time to eventually measure the full positive impact of these code amendments. But in the long-term, they will undoubtedly make our world a better and safer place to live."
The codes and standards development oversight body of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), known as the Standards Council, recently issued two of the Association’s key safety codes that will require fire sprinklers in all nursing homes, in new construction of one- and two-family dwellings, and in all new construction of nightclubs and like facilities, as well as for existing nightclubs and like facilities with capacities over 100.
Provisions requiring fire sprinklers in all nursing homes, in new construction of one- and two-family dwellings, and in all new construction of nightclubs and like facilities, as well as for existing nightclubs and like facilities with capacities over 100, now also apply to the 2006 editions of NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code® and NFPA 5000®, Building Construction and Safety Code®. They went into effect on August 18, 2005.
“The code provision for sprinklers in new one- and two-family dwellings is a milestone in fire protection,” said James M. Shannon, NFPA president. “It is a significant step in reducing the rate of fire death and injury in the place where people are at most risk for fire—their own homes.”
NFPA President Jim Shannon interviewed about nightclub tragedies
|NFPA President Jim Shannon is interviewed by Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes II.
The fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, RI, was the subject of a 60 Minutes II segment on March 5, 2003. CBS correspondent Scott Pelley interviewed NFPA President Jim Shannon for the piece. In addition, NFPA staff provided a significant amount of information to CBS on NFPA's code development process, the organization's position on sprinklers, and the cause of the West Warwick tragedy. The following statement was issued by Mr. Shannon in response to the 60 Minutes II piece.
"Day in and day out, NFPA codes are saving lives, reducing the impact of fire, and preventing tragedies like the recent night club fire from occurring. In fact, our codes have contributed to a nearly 50 percent decline in deaths from fire in buildings over the last 25 years.
When tragedies like this occur, we join the families and friends of the victims as well as all Americans in mourning the loss of life. But, we also spend a great deal of time and energy learning from these events. One of the most frustrating things about the Rhode Island nightclub fire is that this tragedy could have been prevented. If NFPA codes had been followed, there would have been no fire. The highly flammable exposed foam insulation and pyrotechnics were in violation of the code. This should never have happened.
We also must look at the issue of sprinklers. NFPA has long been an advocate for the use of sprinklers. Our codes require them for many structures. The experts who sit on NFPA code writing committees provided a full set of fire safety provisions that, if followed, would have protected occupants in these types of facilities. In this case, however, the codes were violated. We are evaluating what can be done to protect lives even if certain codes have been ignored. We have called for an immediate meeting of our public assembly occupancy committee to examine all the issues and information related to this tragedy and to determine whether our codes should be updated.
Safety codes protect each and every one of us every day. Unfortunately, they can't help if they are ignored. Safety must start with good codes, like those developed by the 7,000 experts who come together to write the NFPA codes. Enforcement of these codes is equally important, and fire and safety officials from across the country are on the front line with this challenge every day. Responsible building owners and operators also have an important role in adhering to the codes. Tragically, in the case of the Rhode Island fire, the codes were ignored."