`Honky-tonk’ hazard: Deadly fires a threat
Local fire officials warn a nightclub blaze like the one that killed 97 people in Rhode Island last Thursday could happen in Colorado, so bar hoppers should take safety precautions when they enter.”There are countless honky-tonks in western Colorado like the one in Rhode Island,” said Carbondale Fire Chief Ron Leach. “This could happen quite easily.””Position yourself near an exit,” added Ron Biggers, fire protection analyst for the Glenwood Springs Fire Department. “Be in a position where you can move quickly.”Leach and Biggers’ comments came as investigators in West Warwick, R.I., sifted through debris at the Station nightclub, which quickly burned to the ground during a show by the rock band Great White.Investigators have said they believe the building fire was caused by the band’s pyrotechnic display. It’s doubtful local fire agencies would allow similar pyrotechnic displays.”We probably wouldn’t allow the show to happen,” said Rifle Fire Chief Mike Morgan.Leach said he denied a permit to allow a pyrotechnic display at the old Mountain Man bar in the 1980s, and would do the same today. “It made the owners mad,” Leach said. “But it was similar to the Rhode Island bar, with wood panel walls and egg crate insulation on the ceiling.”Since 1928, approximately 1,100 people have died in nightclub fires or explosions across the United States, according to The Associated Press. Biggers said there are numerous ways a nightclub fire can start, beside indoor fireworks displays.”Someone can drop a cigarette in a trash can,” Biggers said. “Fires can start from table candles or in the kitchen. Short circuits in electric systems can start fires, especially in old buildings.”Biggers said club managers can take precautions to avoid getting trapped like the victims in the Rhode Island fire.-The club should have at least two exits, and those exits should be free from obstructions.-Exits should be well lit, and lead to the outside of the building rather than to another hall. Biggers advised club patrons to avoid clubs and other buildings with locked or chained exits.Biggers said it’s also important for people to be aware of a nightclub’s occupancy limits, because fire officials and law enforcement personnel are not always on the scene to enforce them.Municipalities, counties and fire protection districts enact complex fire codes written by agencies such as the National Fire Protection Association.Local fire departments and districts use the codes during annual inspections for existing buildings, and for new construction. Leach said existing buildings are often grandfathered when new codes are enacted, and may not be held to the same fire codes standards as new buildings.Sprinkler systems are required for many new buildings, depending on their water source and other considerations, but older buildings are exempt unless the structure is remodeled or expanded. Leach said a sprinkler system “absolutely” would have kept the Rhode Island tragedy from happening.The National Fire Protection Association rewrites its standards every three years, Morgan said. He expects the association will evaluate its pyrotechnic standards due to the Rhode Island fire. “Most codes are a result of a tragedy somewhere, some time,” he said.Even with new codes, fire dangers will still exist, and the public should always be aware, he said. “Codes are in place to prevent fires from happening, but we are only as good as we allow ourselves to be … we’re only human,” Morgan said.Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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