Concerned about the financial burden it would place on local businesses, the Dickinson Fire Department opted not to adopt a policy that would require existing bars and restaurants that serve alcohol to install sprinkler systems if they have a capacity of 300 or more people.
Every three years, the International Fire Code is revised and fire departments across the nation adopt it, with changes.
"Each local authority can make amendments or changes to the code," said Mark Selle, fire marshal. "It’s not very large changes. For instance, some cities don’t allow apartment buildings to be built with vinyl siding. They put that code in there. We don’t add that."
Fire marshals make the determination on what changes to adopt or revise based on a few factors.
"It all has to do with the culture of the community and the culture of the fire department and how things are being built and what their most common fires are (caused by) and trying to eliminate those or reduce those to try and make everything a bit safer for the community and the people," Selle said.
The 2018 International Fire Code, which would be adopted with the approval of the city commission, added 1103.5.1 Group A-2, which reads: "Where alcoholic beverages are consumed in a Group A-2 occupancy having an occupant load of 300 or more, the fire area containing the Group A-2 occupancy shall be equipped with an automatic sprinkler system in accordance with Section 903.3.1.1."
An automatic sprinkler system would be a construction requirement of all new establishments that serve alcohol and have an occupancy of 100 or more people.
While the code on new establishments will be adopted, the code on existing establishments will not.
"We did some research with local businesses (to see) how it was going to affect them and didn’t get real good reception on it," Selle said. "It boiled down to the cost-effectiveness for the business. We didn’t want to put a business out of Dickinson. We wanted to keep them here. That’s what we really looked at. Sprinkler systems are not cheap, and the cost for them was a little tough for everybody to swallow at this point."
According to Selle, there are only three locations that would have been affected by the change.
"One of them has chosen to put a sprinkler system in anyway, which is a good thing," he said. "It’s good for the community, good for the business. The worst thing you can have happen is have a building damaged by fire or smoke and have people get injured or hurt. Just having a business being closed down for remodels and repairs, it really affects the community."
In three years, the code will be reviewed and revised again. Selle said they will look at the issue again then.
"We’re going to take that section out so that we can have some more time to look at it. ... Hopefully with a little bit more education in the reasoning why, maybe in the next time the code cycle comes through, we’ll get a little more buy-in and be able to leave the code as intended," he said.
Prior to making the decision not to include the code, Selle consulted a manual the department receives that explains the reasons for all of the changes made.
He said the change in code was initiated by fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island on Feb. 20, 2003, which killed 100 people and injured 230. It was the fourth-deadliest fire at a nightclub in U.S. history. A National Institute of Standards and Technology investigation of the fire concluded that a fire sprinkler system would have contained the fire long enough for people to exit the building safely.
In order for these changes to the International Fire Code to be made, they have to be accepted by the city commission and become part of the city ordinance.