Putting Out Fire Code Flare-Ups on a Discretionary Basis

Any softening of Rhode Island’s new wish-list fire code are welcome, but this seems a little too typical of the state’s operating practices to inspire comfort:

Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano testified at an open hearing on the code regulation changes that was held last September, to re-emphasize the Senate’s position that the code changes do not require General Assembly action.
“The Senate has maintained that this Board has the power and obligation to address implementation issues that arise relative to Rhode Island’s updated fire safety code,” said President Montalbano at that September hearing. “You (the board) have the ability to analyze technical public testimony, and the guidelines of the Administrative Procedures Act, to formulate a fair and consistent resolution to many of the issues at hand. Any further legislative changes should be viewed solely as a last resort, and only after all regulatory powers are exhausted.”

So, after the Station Nightclub fire (for which not a single public official was pegged with any culpability), the legislature enacted a criminally arduous fire code, and now it is giving the unelected RI Fire Safety Code Board of Appeal and Review the power to ease the severity for specific parties or groups at its own discretion. Here’s a question: Will the board be held liable if it grants an exception or other form of “relief” and the recipient of that leniency has the tragic misfortune of hosting a fatal conflagration?

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16 years ago

This is a real bad idea.
The fire code in place before the Station Night Club fire was fine. It only needed to be enforced.
It wasn’t. That resulted in the worst loss of life due to fire in Rhode Island’s history.
What needed to happen next was criminal prosecution of those who failed to enforce the code.
That didn’t happen. [And that was the worst miscarriage of justice in Rhode Island’s history.]
Instead, the General Assembly passed an incredibly restrictive, expensive, unnecessary fire code.
To what end? If this code had been in place in 2000, 100 people still would have died and 200 people would still have been injured.
So. Number one, the General Assembly looks stupid and insensitive in desperately sticking to this code.
Number two, if this code is so wonderful, why is the Senate President encouraging piecemeal exceptions to it?
And number three, don’t piecemeal exceptions actively encourage exactly the sort of governmental activity for which Rhode Island is notorious?

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