Updated: 07-07-2003 03:37:16 PM

Rhode Island Boosts Fire Safety After Club Blaze

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MICHAEL MELLO
Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Gov. Don Carcieri signed tough new fire regulations Monday, including a ban on pyrotechnics in nightclubs like the one that went up in flames earlier this year in a disaster that killed 100 people.

The nightclub blaze, which was started by pyrotechnics, prompted lawmakers to draft changes they said will give Rhode Island the strictest fire safety rules in the nation.

``I think we're going to set the stage for what happens nationwide, to make sure this never happens again,'' Carcieri said at a Statehouse ceremony attended by fire-safety officials, lawmakers and relatives of those killed in the blaze.

The legislation requires sprinklers in more nightclubs and other businesses, bans pyrotechnics in all but the largest venues and increases the authority of fire inspectors.

Raymond and Diane Mattera brought their 10-year-old grandson Nathan to hear the governor and others pay tribute to the fire victims, including the boy's mother, Tammy Mattera-Housa.

``He draws pictures of the fire. He's struggling with it,'' Diane Mattera said. ``We hope this will show him that maybe people do care.''

Most of the changes become effective Feb. 20, 2004, the first anniversary of the fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, a low-ceilinged club that had no sprinklers. Nearly 200 people were injured.

The new law will require sprinklers in nightclubs that serve alcohol and accommodate at least 150 people _ going beyond recommendations by the National Fire Protection Association for sprinklers in venues that can hold more than 300 people.

However, lawmakers acknowledged there is not enough manpower now to enforce the new codes. And some business owners worry they could be forced to temporarily shut down to meet deadlines to install sprinklers and make other changes.

Missy Minor, a 28-year-old fire survivor from West Warwick, stood in the shade under a tree, to avoid sunlight on her burned arms. She still takes pain medication and has not been able to return to work as a hairdresser, but was not complaining.

``A hundred people can't be here today, but I'm lucky enough to be able to'' come, she said.

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