The Fallacy of the Rhode Island Fire Code

On February 20, 2003 there were a hundred people that lost their lives, and another two hundred and nine that were injured in the Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, RI. The cause of their death was a fire ignited by pyrotechnics set off during a performance of the band Great White.

In a knee jerk reaction, our esteemed legislators passed a new fire code. That new code mandated new alarm system for multi-unit building, sprinklers for some buildings, and a whole host of other requirements. There really was no issue with the old fire code. Instead there was an issue with those charged with enforcing it. The legislature handed fire alarm and sprinkler installers a gift in the form of the new code.

We needed no such thing. In the case of the Station fire, the individuals responsible weren’t just Great White’s tour guy Dan Biechele, and the Derderian brothers. Oh no, there were people responsible that held positions that I consider sacrosanct. That they failed to do their job, and more likely that was because of payola, makes it that much more distasteful.

I’m talking about the fire inspector. To his good fortune, he’s shielded from criminal liability by law. I would hope he’s hit with a devastating civil suit though.

This brings me to my experience with the new fire code.

The alarm system in my building was upgraded. Now it’s a pain in the ass – there are two sensors within six feet of my stove. I’ve had to resort to putting plastic bags over the sensors so that they won’t go off if I even boil water.

But one curious thing about the building I’m in strikes me as very interesting. There’s a restaurant below me that opened recently. The opening of that restaurant is what prompted the fire alarm system upgrade. But on inspection, they completely missed that the doors leading out from the residential space are in a cramped stairway and they open INWARD. This is a serious no-no with regard to general fire code, not just RI fire code.

So I called the Fire Prevention office. They explained that they’d have an inspector contact me to schedule a time where the inspector could come out and take a look. When I asked the woman on the phone how the inspection for the restaurant opening could have passed with that egress issue, the line went dead silent. She then recovered and promised I’d hear from someone.

This leads me to believe that either a) the fire inspectors in this city are incompetent or b) There was payola involved.

I’ll tell you why I lean toward the latter being the best choice. There are always articles in the Providence Journal about restaurants that were closed because they had unapproved items that represent a fire hazard, or exits blocked, etc. Not to mention that I wouldn’t put it past the lying sack of shit management/owner of this building to pay off an inspector.

So this is my call to the Providence Journal to start digging. It’ll be interesting to see what they find.

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