QUINCY, Mass. (AP) - Tammy Passa was only 15 feet from the main
entrance of The Station nightclub when she tried to escape the hot
flames and thick black smoke consuming the building.
Instead, she was paralyzed by the crowd, until a police officer
pulled her to safety.
"I tried to wiggle and it was hard to wiggle," said Passa, 24,
of Warwick. "You realized that you didn't want to die there, so
you did everything you could to get out of the pile. ... If (the
doors) were bigger, more people would probably have been able to
get out."
Prompted by the Feb. 20 fire that killed 100 people and injured
scores of others, a National Fire Protection Association committee
voted Wednesday to recommend tougher crowd-management and
fire-safety standards in the NFPA's Life Safety Code, which has
been adopted in one form or another by more than 30 states.
The committee voted to require building owners or their
representatives to inspect all exits each time the building will be
opened to the public. That's every day for some seven-day-a-week
businesses.
It also voted to require a crowd manager for all places of
assembly, which the NFPA defines as places that hold 50 people or
more.
The standards would require venues with festival seating and a
capacity of 250 or more to conduct sweeping "life safety
evaluations" every year.
Currently, the NFPA recommends such evaluations only in
buildings with a capacity of 1,000 or more. The Station had a
maximum capacity of 404 people when all chairs and tables were
removed.
Paul Wertheimer, a Chicago-based crowd management specialist who
testified in May before a Rhode Island commission investigating the
fire, said a life safety evaluation, "would have exposed earlier
the potential shortcomings of that venue under certain
situations."
And "if somebody had been authorized or available to help
direct the crowd, it might have made a difference in lessening the
disaster," he said.
On Tuesday, the committee voted to recommend that sprinklers be
required in all new places of assembly. The committee also will
recommend sprinklers in some existing buildings with a capacity of
100 or more.
Those emergency changes would apply only to nightclubs,
discotheques, dance halls, bars and venues with festival seating.
The current NFPA guidelines suggest sprinklers in buildings with a
capacity of 300 or more.
The sprinkler recommendations are tougher than the fire code
enacted Monday in Rhode Island, where sprinklers are required by
July 2006 in nightclubs that serve alcohol and have occupancies of
at least 150 people. Other places of assembly with occupancies of
300 or more are required to install sprinklers by July 2005.
The building that housed The Station nightclub did not have
sprinklers.
The measures approved this week are an important step by the
NFPA to "understand crowd dynamics and crowd psychology and ...
expand their influence in another area of public safety," said
Wertheimer, a committee member who also spoke before a commission
studying a Chicago nightclub stampede that left 21 dead.
"It's spotlighting something that's been in the code, but
strengthening it," said Gary Keith, the NFPA's vice president for
building codes and standards. "The experiences in both the Chicago
and Rhode Island incidents say that we need to have emergency
planning for crowd management, even in small venues."
The committee's recommendations will be considered for final
approval by the NFPA's Standards Council when it meets next week in
Portland, Ore.
The nonprofit NFPA, which has no enforcement power, also formed
task forces to study stadium stairs and the width of exits. The
groups will present their findings to the committee when it meets
again Feb. 3 in Phoenix.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)