JOHN: It's the legal phenomenon called "grandfathering," whereby older buildings that were built before the code required sprinklers don't have to become sprinklered unless they undergo a "change of use or occupancy." Somehow, during the evolution of this club — as Marilyn traces from humble restaurant to a concert venue with over 400 people in it — was never considered a sufficient change of use or occupancy to require sprinklering, which is really sad.
Fortunately, Rhode Island since the Station fire has tightened its fire code to make it less easy to grandfather old buildings and to require the investment in places of public assembly for more than 300 people — that they be sprinklered.
SO YOU HAD THE FAILURE TO INSTALL A SPRINKLER SYSTEM. WHAT WERE THE OTHER TWO OR THREE CATASTROPHIC MISTAKES THAT LED TO THIS FIRE?
JOHN: The perfect storm was: illegal use of inappropriate pyrotechnics indoors, flammable wall coverings, overcrowding, and poorly or completely untrained staff.
YOU MENTIONED SOME CHANGES IN THE LAW AROUND SPRINKLERING. BUT BROADLY SPEAKING, FROM A PUBLIC POLICY PERSPECTIVE, HAS THE STATE RESPONDED ADEQUATELY?
PAUL LONARDO: Ten years later, you can see that some changes were made. But is it enough?
GINA: No, not at all. I think crowd management is a big problem. Supposedly [the state of] Rhode Island has [a training requirement] in place. I can tell you 15 or 20 people who are working up on Federal Hill that don't even know what the crowd management program is. Why? Why?
But yet, I can go up to Massachusetts and the state fire marshal there — I helped fill a crowd management safety training program. And it is being enforced.
JOHN: There's much more consciousness in the Commonwealth [of Massachusetts].
GINA: Yes, there is. It's sad.
WHY IS THAT?
JOHN: Even a couple of years after the fire code was tightened regarding sprinklers, the business community brought pressure to bear, saying you're putting small places out of business by requiring the investment in the sprinkler systems. Loosen it up, somewhat. And indeed, they did loosen it up a little bit.
In one irony, several years after the fire, in an 11th-hour session — wee hours of the legislative session — they passed a law allowing the general public to buy certain kinds of pyrotechnics now. I'm sorry, there's gonna be accidents. We've already seen some fires. We've seen the incidents of personal injuries to children and even adults increase with it. It's inevitable when you allow the public to buy this stuff. And also the quality of life, even for people not using it, has been diminished around the holidays. It's a noisy mess.
GINA: No one is taking [safety] seriously enough. It can't happen to them. It's not going to happen on my watch. They all think they've got it down. But the reality is they don't. They don't.
JOHN: You mentioned the commitment phenomenon. Good crowd management can break the cycle of the commitment phenomenon. If at the first sign of trouble, the entertainment stops and there's a clear announcement of what the crowd [should] do, that can avoid so many problems. But you have to break the public's engagement with the entertainment activity.
MARILYN, HAVE YOU SEEN ANY LASTING SHIFTS IN ATTITUDE AMONG CLUB MANAGERS OR CLUBGOERS, OR HAS IT ALL FADED?