Providence, RI, fire inspections years out of date
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Fire records in Providence show that many bars and nightclubs in the city haven’t had required fire inspections in years — and some didn’t have sprinkler systems — despite a nightclub blaze that killed 100 people a decade ago.
Records for 60 Providence clubs and bars going back 10 years show that most of the last fire inspections came in 2005 or earlier, according to a monthslong review by WJAR-TV. The records showed that eight nightclubs lacked fire sprinklers.
A state law changed after the 2003 fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick requires yearly inspections of clubs and bars.
Some inspection reports from last year showed violations including clogged fire devices, blocked stairwells and fire alarms ripped open and silenced, WJAR found. There was no indication inspectors had returned to see if the violations had been addressed.
Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare, who was appointed in 2011 by Mayor Angel Taveras, acknowledged that the fire inspections are years out of date and called the violations dangerous. He blamed previous leadership and an outdated record-keeping system that is now being overhauled.
‘‘There’s no excuse, but we didn’t have the leadership, we didn’t have the infrastructure,’’ Pare told the station. ‘‘We’re building that.’’
He said full inspections of nightclubs and bars will be done this year.
Pare said he didn’t know whether sprinkler systems had been installed in the clubs where inspectors had earlier found them lacking.
David Ortiz, a spokesman for Taveras, had no immediate comment.
The fire broke out at The Station nightclub in 2003 when pyrotechnics from the band Great White ignited flammable foam lining the walls and ceiling.
Gina Russo, who lost her fiancé in the blaze and who was severely burned herself, called the lack of inspections a ‘‘nightmare.’’
‘‘I at least thought they were being inspected. I'm stunned,’’ the president of the Station Fire Memorial Foundation told The Associated Press.
‘‘It’s embarrassing. They should be completely embarrassed,’’ said Russo, who has since become a fire safety advocate. ‘‘Every one of these public officials should be completely embarrassed.’’
Providence Acting Fire Chief Michael Dillon recently told the AP that The Station fire led to changes that have made clubs safer. He said the new fire code, including the requirement for sprinklers for clubs of certain sizes, has saved people’s lives.
‘‘When they go to a venue, they know they are being protected,’’ he said.
Associated Press writer Michelle R. Smith contributed to this report.
Providence Fire Prevention nearly Non-existent
by Michal Morse
In 1991, when I began my career with the Providence Fire Department, we had a thriving Fire Prevention Division. Plan reviewers, inspectors, consultants, a command structure and a budget. Now, we have empty offices where those people used to be.
100 people died in a nightclub fire in Rhode Island in 2003. Laws were changed, codes strengthened, a lot of noise made about the Draconian measures being taken to keep our citizens safe.
In Providence that noise echoes in an empty office. The Fire Department budget has been cut, and sliced, and chipped away so severely we are barely able to keep our minimum manning numbers current on the front line firefighting crews. We (Local 799, The Providence Firefighters Union) gave back manpower to the city during the last contract negotiations, and most of out fire fighting trucks are now staffed with three firefighters, when for a city the size of Providence and the extreme fire load here, four is necessary for an effective fire fighting force. Two in two out? Not likely when there are three on the first due apparatus.
There are a lot of nightclubs in Providence, a lot of cash, and not a lot of people watching over the circus. The last five years and the "economic crisis" has brought with it the ability to slash budgets and jeopardize public safety without much commentary from the very public that is in danger. The cost of lowering taxes, a smaller government and underfunding public safety is beginning to become clear.
A Fire Department needs a good Fire Prevention Division, staffed and budgeted, with an organizational structure, people to carry out the needed inspections and the tools to do the job.