By Nancy Rineman
Atlantic News, Thursday, March 6, 2003
HAMPTON — Townspeople who may have been concerned about the safety of Hampton's nightclubs and other establishments following the recent deadly fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island, were presented with information about local procedures at Monday night's board of selectmen meeting.
Hampton Fire Chief Hank Lipe, Fire Inspector Scott McDonald and Fire Prevention Officer Jon True appeared at the selectmen's meeting to answer questions about overall fire prevention in Hampton. fire safety is discussed
"We all feel the sorrow and sadness," Lipe began, referring to the Rhode Island fire. Lipe said that the possibility of future tragedies occurring will continue to exist until national laws change with regard to demanding such preventative methods as sprinkler systems.
McDonald told selectmen that the Hampton Fire Prevention Department makes 1600 inspections a year in addition to stepping into the positions of education and health care. In addition to restaurants and clubs, apartments, motels and hotels are also checked for means of egress, exit lights and exit signs, McDonald explained.
Places of assembly are thoroughly inspected annually, and perhaps as often as four times a year.
"We have a very aggressive inspection program," McDonald said, adding that his department does target certain occupancy types, such as places where people may not be familiar with their surroundings, as with motel and hotel rentals.
During the summer, the fire prevention officers focus on the beach area. McDonald said at times blocked exits are discovered. Any infractions posing a threat to life are required to become compliant immediately, while others may have a week or two longer.
Selectman Ginny Bridle, who last week had suggested requesting members of the Hampton Fire Department to appear at the selectmen's meeting, asked what precautions are taken in the case of a restaurant having a kitchen below the dining area. McDonald said restaurant cooking requirements call for an exhaust system as well as a sprinkler system. Prior to that, permits must be issued by the fire department, McDonald said.
"Do we allow pyrotechnics in town?" Bridle asked, to which McDonald replied, "No." In response to Bridle's question asking who actually inspects the stages in clubs where groups perform, McDonald said that the club owner is ultimately responsible for the club to be in compliance.
"We try to work with owners in a pro-active manner," Lipe told selectmen, adding that there have been a number of success stories in which owners are doing things that codes don't require. Lipe said that of 70 places of public assembly in Hampton, 40 have sprinkler systems.
Before leaving Monday night's meeting, Lipe, True and McDonald displayed a piece of polyurethane foam used for packing, similar to what is believed to have been in the Rhode Island nightclub. They said it could be described as "basic gasoline," and is extremely flammable.
Selectman William 'Skip" Sullivan recalled the recent nursing home fire in Hartford, Connecticut, that claimed 10 lives. That building was sprinklered, Sullivan noted. True said that in Hampton, most Senior Citizen housing complexes do have sprinkler systems, as well as having fire alarms that are tied into the fire station. True said that national statistics reveal that there have never been multiple fire deaths in a fully sprinklered facility or building.