In the aftermath of “The Station” nightclub fire, in Warwick, Rhode Island, the Rhode Island General Assembly drafted new legislation relating to health and safety. The act is presently known as “The Comprehensive Fire Safety Act of 2003” (the “Act”), and it was signed by the Governor on July 7, 2003, and will be effective January 1, 2004.
While the thrust of the Act relates to places of assembly (essentially broadening the number of businesses subject to regulation by lowering the maximum possible occupancy figures), it also includes new language expressly relating to commercial fireworks. The most important provisions pertaining to the pyrotechnics industry are as follows (in no particular order of importance):
Preemptive Effect: Pursuant to the rules of construction, all current city and town ordinances relating to the possession and display of commercial fireworks or pyrotechnics shall be of no force and effect.
Pyrotechnics Prohibition: The Act classifies places of assembly as follows:
Class A: capacity of one thousand one (1001) persons or more;
Class B: capacity of three hundred one (301) to one thousand (1000) persons;
Class C: capacity of fifty (50) (lowered from 75) to three hundred (300) persons.
Under the act, pyrotechnics are (i) permitted in Class A places of assembly provided that the facility is fully fire alarmed and fully sprinklered; (ii) prohibited in all Class B places of assembly, except theatres (defined as a building where people assemble for presentation of a theatrical performance or motion picture presentation) that are fully fire alarmed and sprinklered and have advance approval from the fire marshal; and (iii) prohibited from Class C places of assembly.
Incorporation of NFPA Standards: The Act adopts wholesale the requirements contained in NFPA 1123 (2000 Edition), 1124 (2003 Edition), and 1126 (2000 Edition).
Permit Process: Before issuing a permit, the applicant must first obtain a valid certificate of competency from the state fire marshal; and knowledge of the applicable NFPA requirements is now expressly part of the exam. All prior requirements remain in effect (e.g., certification indicating satisfactory completion of psychiatric examination).
Permit Renewal: After July 1, 2003, the certificate holder may be required to pass an exam demonstrating knowledge of the applicable NFPA requirements prior to renewal of the certificate. Accordingly, certificates issued prior to July 1, 2003 are not automatically renewable, without examination.
Financial Responsibility: All permit applicants must provide “proof of financial responsibility” of at least one million dollars ($1,000,000) to satisfy claims for damage. The term financial responsibility is not defined; however, liability insurance for these types of claims should suffice.
Violations: Unlawful possession of commercial fireworks or pyrotechnics triggers a fine of $100-$500, or imprisonment for not more than one year; whereas, unlawful use or display triggers a fine of not less than $1,000, or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.
General speaking, the new regulations do not place an onerous burden upon conscientious and competent business owners; in fact, the new regulations seemingly have the effect of eliminating the non-professional hobbyist that is commonly retained for low budget events at very small venues. While this may be helpful to the industry as a whole, we should not ignore the fact that this legislation can serve as a template (commonly known as ‘copycat’ legislation) for other jurisdictions. Only time will tell.
Comments and questions can be directed to:
Donald E. Creadore, Esq.
425 Park Avenue – 31st Floor
New York, NY 10022
Tel. (212) 355-7200
Fax. (212) 583-0412