NFPA Acts Quickly to Address Nightclub Disasters

The National Fire Protection Association’s Technical Committee on Assembly Occupancies convenes a special meeting in response to recent nightclub tragedies

By Consulting Specifying Engineer Staff March 14, 2003

The National Fire Protection Association’s Technical Committee on Assembly Occupancies, convened a special meeting in Boston on Thursday, March 13, to review safety issues in public assembly buildings.

In the world of codes and standards, where things move relatively slowly, the special session was intended as a direct and immediate response to two recent nightclub disasters. An early morning crowd stampede on February 17 at Chicago’s E2 nightclub left 21 patrons dead, a tragedy that was followed three days later by a fire that killed 98 patrons of The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., one of the deadliest such disasters in U.S. history. NFPA has been asked by the Rhode Island state fire marshal’s office to assist with the analysis of the latter incident.

“Although we still don’t have all the facts about these terrible incidents, we know enough right now to warrant a serious review and scrutiny of the future direction of codes and standards, and their enforcement locally,” explained NFPA Executive Vice President Arthur E. Cote, P.E., in an earlier quote on NFPA Online. There’s no time to waste in examining the available information, said the engineer.

“These past few weeks have been extremely difficult,” said NFPA President Jim Shannon of the tragedies in Chicago and West Warwick. “It is frustrating that in each case lives were lost because there were serious code violations. If the codes had been followed, maybe these tragedies wouldn’t have occurred.” While the investigations into the Rhode Island and Chicago tragedies continue and as further information becomes available, the Technical Committee on Assembly Occupancies has initiated the processing of three tentative interim amendments (TIA) that would affect the NFPA Life Safety Code :

1. Eliminating the use of festival seating—also known as general admission seating—unless certain requirements are met.

2. Requiring the use of crowd managers knowledgeable in public safety for all assembly occupancies.

3. Increasing the use of automatic sprinklers in existing nightclubs.

The committee also established a task force to review the threshold at which sprinklers will be required. All TIAs are considered part of an NFPA document once fully processed and issued by the NFPA Standards Council. The council will address these TIAs at its July 2003 meeting.

The next meeting of the Technical Committee on Assembly Occupancies is expected to be held prior to the Standards Council meeting. The transcript of the open public forum will be posted on the organization’s web site as soon as it is available.

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