Officials in Boston, where many of the hundreds of victims of last month's deadly nightclub fire in Rhode Island were treated, are leading the national legislative response to the recent nightclub tragedies.
Yesterday, members of the Boston City Council's committee on public safety convened a fact-finding hearing to discuss lowering capacities in nightclubs by more than a third, stepping up inspection and enforcement of the city's fire code and requiring more smoke detectors and sprinklers, even on buildings that pre-date the existing code.
That hearing followed Mayor Thomas Menino's banning of pyrotechnic displays in all Boston's 200-plus nightclubs last week. Mayor Menino also announced the formation of a task force on nightclub safety made up of officials from the city's licensing and inspections divisions, emergency services and club owners.
That last group was among the opposition at yesterday's council hearing. City codes now allow one person per three feet of space; the city council has suggested raising that number to five square feet of space for every occupant, which would shrink many capacities by hundreds of people and severely cut into the industry's revenue. Councilors expect to introduce the legislation within weeks.
"As far as fire codes go, Boston has one of the safest, particularly in respect to the Cocoanut Grove fire," says Councilor Stephen Murphy, referring to the deadliest nightclub blaze in history. The 1942 fire killed 492 in Boston and led to many changes in the universal fire code such as flanking exits for revolving doors, occupant capacity placards, exit lights. "Still," Murphy says, "there's room for improvement." He cites a need to boost the number of inspectors on the job at any given time and stiffen the penalty for violations.
Larger venues, like the city's Fleet Center, would not necessarily be subject to the same restrictions. Operators of such places in Boston can still apply for a permit to feature indoor pyrotechnic displays.
Ninety-nine people were killed and hundreds more injured at West Warwick's the Station last month, after pyrotechnics used by the band Great White ignited soundproofing around the stage and razed the wooden nightclub. And less than a week earlier, twenty-one died in a stampede in a Chicago club.