PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – A Senate committee unanimously approved more stringent fire safety laws primarily affecting commercial and government buildings, in the wake of a nightclub fire that claimed 100 lives.

The bill approved Thursday by the Committee on Commerce, Housing and Municipal Government would require sprinklers in most nightclubs with live entertainment and restrict use of pyrotechnics to only the largest venues. Local fire marshals would be given increased authority to enforce state codes.

Sprinklers would be required by July 2006 in nightclubs that serve alcohol and have occupancies of at least 150 people.

Other places of assembly with occupancies of 300 or more would also be required to install sprinklers by July 2005.

Older commercial structures and buildings with four or more apartments would no longer be exempt from fire safety standards applied to new construction

The full House was expected to approve the same requirements on Thursday.

Gov. Don Carcieri also supports the tougher standards and is expected to sign the bill into law later this month.

Relatives and friends of those who died or were injured in the Feb. 20 fire at The Station, in West Warwick, urged the Senate committee to support the stronger fire code requirements.

The building that housed The Station dates to the 1940’s and had no sprinklers. Investigators believe a band’s pyrotechnics sparked the fast-moving blaze, which also injured nearly 200.

“It just can’t happen again,” said Christie Robbins, 31, of Fall River, Mass., who knew five people who died in the fire. “I know you can keep us safe.”

Susan Asselin, of North Providence, lost a cousin in the inferno.

“I don’t think any death from a fire is acceptable,” she said. “You don’t get a second chance once you are dead.”

Most of the changes were recommended by a 17-member state commission formed after the blaze. Lawmakers agreed to amend a recommendation so that wireless smoke and carbon monoxide detectors could be allowed in three-family apartment buildings. The original version would have recommended installation of only hard-wired devices.

Cranston’s Ric Santurri said it would have cost thousands of dollars to wire each apartment building he owns for smoke and carbon monoxide protection. Wireless models are much cheaper, he said.

Single and two-family housing units would not be affected by the more stringent standards.

Another change from the commission’s recommendations eliminates part of the code that exempts government buildings from sprinkler requirements.

Rhode Island officials have repeatedly said the tougher codes approved by the Senate committee will make the state the safest in the nation.

The sprinkler requirements go beyond what the National Fire Protection Association recommends. The Quincy, Mass.-based association of fire experts currently recommends sprinklers for some public venues accommodating more than 300.

The association is considering recommending fire sprinklers in all nightclubs.


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