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NFPA Technical Committee Holds Meeting to Address Code Writing Concerns

Public forum includes emotional testimony

New York, Mar 17, 2003

The Technical Committee on Assembly Occupancies of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) held an emergency meeting on March 13, 2003 to address code writing and enforcement concerns underscored by recent tragedies in Chicago and Rhode Island nightclubs. Immediately prior to the meeting, NFPA opened the floor to a 90-minute public forum that included passionate testimony by victims’ families, groups that work with fire and burn survivors, and representatives from key organizations such as the International Fire Marshals Association and Society of Fire Protection Engineers.

On February 17, 21 people died during a stampede in a nightclub in Chicago. The West Warwick, RI nightclub fire at The Station erupted during a pyrotechnic display on February 20, and claimed 99 lives. NFPA has been asked by Rhode Island fire officials to assist with investigation and analysis of the accident. (See related article: NIST Investigates Rhode Island Nightclub Fire)

"We must not waste any time in examining all the available information about public assembly occupancies in the wake of these building emergencies," said NFPA Executive Vice President Arthur E. Cote, P.E. "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. We must learn from these tragedies, and the time to act is now."

Several NFPA Technical Committees are reviewing codes that affect minimum thresholds for requiring automatic fire sprinkler protection, allowable interior finish and decorations, adequate egress, exiting arrangements, retroactive application of code requirements, inspection and permitting.

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 that would affect the NFPA Life Safety Code® by:

    eliminating the use of festival seating, also known as general admission seating, unless certain requirements are met,

    requiring the use of crowd managers knowledgeable in public safety for all assembly occupancies, and

    increasing the use of automatic sprinklers in existing nightclubs.

A transcript of the March 13 public forum will be posted on NFPA's Web site as soon as it becomes available.

NFPA facilitates the development of more than 300 building, fire, electrical and life safety codes and standards under a consensus code-making process that is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). More than 6,500 volunteers serve on NFPA technical committees, writing NFPA model codes, standards, and recommended practices. NFPA is a private, nonprofit membership organization, and is not an enforcement authority. NFPA codes and standards are developed as minimum requirements and are voluntary, unless they are adopted by a jurisdiction and then enforced locally.

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