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Over 750 Saved by Washington’s Retroactive Nightclub Sprinkler Requirements

January 13, 2014

Fire sprinkler legislation

On February 20, 2003, a night club fire in Rhode Island took the lives of almost 100 people. The Station Nightclub fire was the fourth deadliest fire in US history, and as a result, the NFPA enacted sweeping codes for fire sprinklers in nightclubs. In 2007, Washington State officials voted to adopt retroactive sprinkler requirements for nightclubs, and as a result, over 750 lives were saved on New Year’s Eve in Seattle.

The Sprinkler Rule, which was adopted in Washington, set a December 1, 2009, compliance deadline and enacted some of the following rules:

A Change in Nightclub Definition

  • Prior Nightclub definition:  A nightclub facility which was defined by its primary source of revenue, the types of performers/entertainers, and the occupancy load.
  • New Nightclub definition: A bar, restaurant, or nightclub facility used for dancing or viewing performers that has a total aggregate area of 350 square feet or more. Exclusions include banquet halls, theaters with fixed seating, and lodge halls.

Fire Sprinkler Installations

–          In new nightclubs, restaurants, and bars, fire sprinklers must be installed when at least one of the following three conditions are met:

  • The fire area exceeds 5,000 square feet (a fire area is an area enclosed by fire walls, fire barriers, exterior walls, or fire-resistive rated horizontal assemblies).
  • The occupant load is 100 people or more.
  • The fire area is located on a floor other than the “level of exit discharge” (floor at ground level).

How can the general public keep safe in the event of a fire?

–          Know your exits: It’s common in an emergency for people to try to exit through the door in which they entered. This can potentially cause a crowd at that exit. Next time you’re in a restaurant or movie theater, make a mental note of where all of the exits are and which ones are closest to you. Should a fire or other emergency happen, these might be closer and easier to access than the door through which you entered.

–          If you notice an exit door is locked, let the establishment’s management know. Exit doors must remain unlocked during business hours.

–          If you see someone smoking or using a lighter or open flame in an establishment where smoking is prohibited, let management know.

–          If you smell gas or see smoke in a place where it shouldn’t be, let management know.  A personal example of this happened a few years ago when I was Christmas shopping at a local outlet mall. I was in a toy store and noticed smoke coming through the seams of the ceiling tiles. I alerted management and the store was evacuated within minutes. It ended up that the wiring in the roof was smoldering and a fire had started and was spreading rapidly. Thankfully management had contacted 911 and was able to get the fire department on the scene before anyone was hurt.

The sprinkler system at the Capitol Hill nightclub caused approximately $6,000 in damage and saved over 700 lives.  A small price to pay to save so many lives!

WSRB would like to thank the State Officials who enacted the retroactive nightclub sprinkler law and the Washington State fire departments who put their lives at risk to protect ours.

Remember, Fire Sprinklers Save Lives!

Article by: Kristen Skinner

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