Legislators look at FF issues
Lawmakers probe firefighter staffing, fire codes
By KEN MAGUIRE
Associated Press Writer
BOSTON (AP) - Firefighter layoffs, station closings and
sprinkler regulations are among the issues legislators are
examining as they consider new laws to improve fire safety
following a deadly Rhode Island nightclub fire.
The legislative panel meets Tuesday night in Revere. Members say
they won't rely solely on the forthcoming recommendations of Gov.
Mitt Romney's fire safety task force, created after a Feb. 20 blaze
at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., killed 100 people.
"We're the ones who make the laws," said Rep. Kathi-Anne
Reinstein, D-Revere. "Just relying on the governor's commission's
recommendations is selling ourselves short."
The lawmakers, members of the Public Safety Committee, are
taking a broader view than did Romney's task force.
Both groups are examining laws regarding sprinklers, building
exits, interior finish and pyrotechnics - all factors in the fire
at The Station.
But the lawmakers are also looking into staffing levels.
Statewide, 191 firefighters have lost their jobs in recent months,
according to the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts union.
Springfield alone laid off 53.
"Fire safety in Massachusetts is at risk," union president
Robert McCarthy said. "A catastrophe is going to happen sooner or
later. We don't oppose any progressive legislation to enhance fire
safety, but the most important part is the first responder."
Reinstein saw one of her city's four fire houses close because
of budget cuts after the state slashed local aid to help close a $3
billion budget gap. And few lawmakers are willing to propose tax
The committee will hold hearings around the state leading up to
a formal meeting in September.
By then, the recommendations Romney's task force will be known.
That report is expected to be sent to the governor within two
weeks, State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said.
Since the Rhode Island fire, the state has retested 38 holders
of pyrotechnic licenses and stripped nine others of their license
after they declined to be retested.
Also, the Public Safety Committee in March approved a bill to
require nightclubs and dance halls in Massachusetts to install
Only arena-sized venues and traditional theaters would be
allowed to use pyrotechnics. The measure is awaiting action of the
Edwin J. Shanahan, chief executive of the Greater Boston Real
Estate Board, said he favors efforts to expand sprinkler usage. But
he plans to urge lawmakers to be flexible, such as letting local
fire chiefs have say in interpreting the law.
"Let the local fire chief be the final arbiter," Shanahan
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)