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Mass. Sprinkler Regs Result In Mass Confusion

BOSTON (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — The deadline for Massachusetts bars and clubs to be in compliance with a new state law requiring that sprinkler fire protection systems be installed has passed, but many establishments are still not in up to code.

The law, entitled the Fire Safety Act of 2004, passed after the Station Nightclub tragedy in neighboring Rhode Island claimed more than 100 lives. The law requires that all nightclubs, dance halls, discotheques, bars, or other venues "for entertainment purposes" with capacities of 100 people or more have sprinkler systems installed. While seemingly straightforward, the law was unfortunately nebulous in some respects.

Most importantly, the law provided an exemption for restaurants, but it did not establish what constitutes a restaurant, leaving a loophole for many bar owners to claim that they are eateries instead of bars.

Additionally, waivers have been issued extensively. According to the Boston Globe, of the 283 bars in Boston that fire officials initially identified as falling under the jurisdiction of the new regs, 109 have since earned waivers and 28 have exemptions pending. Another 85 have received 30 or 60 day extensions after waiting until the last minute.

These issues are all compounded by uneven enforcement due to the fact that there is no single regulatory body responsible for overseeing the efforts, with enforcement responsibility left to local fire officials.

Many have also pointed to the seemingly arbitrary nature of the law, sometimes with the presence of a jukebox being the difference between sprinklers being required or not.

"These guys talk to each other all the time: 'You've got a menu, I've got a menu, you've got a chef, I've got a chef, you've got a juke box, I've got a juke box, I have to get sprinklered and you don't?' " Terence F. Connaughton, the spokesman for an industry trade association told the Globe.

State officials have expressed surprise at the widespread use of waivers. "In my mind this is a failure of the restaurant association or the beverage association for not being totally on top of this for their members," Brian P. Lees, one of the key legislators behind the law told the Boston Globe "I know we bent over backwards to make sure there was time and that small bars and restaurants wouldn't be affected."

Lees was instrumental in retooling the law, which devolved from a special task force convened by then governor Mitt Romney. Before being amended, the original bill required that all bars and nightclubs with a capacity of 50 or more install sprinklers almost immediately. – CelebrityAccess Staff Writers