PROVIDENCE -- Governor Carcieri is being asked to budget $1 million to expand the State House smoke-detection system and to add sprinklers that should have been installed more than a decade ago.
After fire destroyed a suite of offices and filled the State House with smoke just before Christmas in 1991, sprinklers were installed in the building's subbasement.
Despite a January 1992 order from the Fire Safety Code Board of Appeal & Review, the state never put sprinklers in the State House basement, where the fire had occurred.
The issue resurfaced earlier this year in the wake of The Station nightclub fire, which claimed 100 lives. A legislative commission met at the State House to toughen Rhode Island's fire code in response to the blaze. And attention focused on the fact that the commission was meeting in a building where hearing rooms and offices lacked smoke detectors and sprinklers.
State Fire Marshal Irving J. Owens and state Building Code Commissioner Daniel R. DeDentro toured the State House in late July to reevaluate the building in light of the new fire codes.
"It is my suggestion," Owens wrote in an Oct. 3 letter, "that we continue the sprinkler and fire-alarm project as previously discussed."
The letter went to William H. Ferguson, acting associate director of the Division of Central Services, which has now requested $500,000 for the sprinklers and $500,000 for the expanded smoke-detection system.
"I fully expect these fire-code compliance requests to be granted this year," Ferguson said this week. "I think fire-code compliance has become a priority in the state -- and definitely in state government -- since The Station nightclub fire."
He noted that the work would bring the state into compliance with the 1992 order of the Fire Safety Code Board of Appeal & Review.
And he said the state has begun the process of selecting an architectural firm to design both the sprinkler system and a heating-ventilation and air-conditioning system, which is part of a separate State House project.
But for the work to commence, Carcieri would have to include the money in his capital budget proposal, and the General Assembly would have to approve the spending.
Rep. Joseph A. Trillo, a member of the legislative fire-safety commission, said he doesn't think the state has any choice but to do the work.
"If we are going to insist that private businesses put up the money and not be overly concerned with where they get it, then certainly the state needs to be prepared to do it at whatever the cost," Trillo said. "Because it was the birthplace of this fire-safety legislation, this building should serve as the model for that legislation."
Trillo, R-Warwick, emphasized that he does not like the idea of spending $1 million in state money. But he said, "I think it should be done. There are rooms there that don't meet fire code, and we pack 50 or 60 people in these rooms."
"We have to step up to the plate financially and honor the laws we passed in there," Trillo said. "If we can't do it, we should let everybody else backtrack off the hook."
Smoke detectors were installed in the House and Senate chambers after the 1991 fire, and there are fire-alarm "pull boxes" in State House hallways, but smoke detectors were never placed in hearing rooms and offices, Ferguson said. Now, Ferguson said, officials hope to expand the smoke-detection system to the whole building.
While there are sprinklers in the subbasement, there are none in the basement or the three floors where the public meets. Now, Ferguson said, officials hope to install sprinklers in the basement.
Ferguson said officials are unsure whether the new fire code would require sprinklers in State House hearing rooms. "Do you apply this code as if the State House is a place of business or a place of assembly?" Ferguson asked. "If it's a place of assembly, we might have to put sprinklers in hearing rooms."
Ferguson said officials also are unsure of what to do about the fact that most legislative committees meet in rooms where the door swings inward -- which would pose a hazard if there was a fire and people rushed to get out. He said officials aren't sure what latitude they have because of the 100-year-old building's historic nature.
One alternative, Ferguson said, would be to leave the doors open during committee meetings. He noted that room capacities have been posted, and he said Capitol Police officers are enforcing those limits.
But Trillo said he considers the inward-swinging doors "a major problem." If an emergency occurred, people might panic and rush to the doors, he said, adding, "They'd pile up against the doors, and no one would be able to get out."
"There is a sensitive way to change the swing of the doors without interfering with the historic value," Trillo said. "It's going to be expensive, but it's necessary for the safety factor of the room."
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Thread: RI State House Not Up To Code
11-14-2003, 12:37 AM #1
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- Apr 2000
RI State House Not Up To Code
11-16-2003, 12:04 PM #2
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- Oct 2002
- Boise, ID
Interesting story. Here in Boise, the State Capitol Building suffered severe damage in a fire on New Year's Day, 1992, just a week after the R.I. fire. Naturally there were no sprinklers, but they were added during the repair after the fire.
Most of the buildings in the State Government complex downtown are not sprinklered or only partially sprinklered. Many of the older buildings on the campus of Boise State University are not sprinklered either. State statute gives fire inspection and prevention responsibility to the State Fire Marshal's office. The local F.D. must fight fires in these buildings, but has no inspection or enforcement authority. And, by the way, since State buildings are tax-exempt we get to do it for free.
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