TO:                  W. Calvin Horton, Town Manager


FROM:            Daniel Jones, Fire Chief


SUBJECT:       Fire Safety in Clubs and Bars


DATE:             March 2, 2003



In response to your question of what could be done legislatively to help prevent a fire related tragedy in our clubs, bars and other places of assembly like the recent incident in Rhode Island, I can only suggest one truly effective solution.  That solution would be to require bars, clubs and other similar places of public assembly that have gatherings of more than 50 people and sell alcoholic beverages to install and maintain fire sprinkler systems.


The life saving record of fire sprinkler systems is without peer.  There has never been a multiple-loss-of-life fire in a fully and properly operating sprinklered building.  We have experienced the effectiveness of these systems in Chapel Hill.  Since the Council enacted a retroactive fire sprinkler requirement in University Greek housing in 1996 we have had several small fires that were easily controlled by the operating sprinkler systems and no major fires.


The current state fire code defines public assembly Group A-2 as “Assembly uses intended for food and/or drink consumption including but not limited to: Banquet Halls, Night Clubs, Restaurants, Taverns and Bars”.  Because of the potential hazards posed by these types of occupancies and the possibility of overcrowding in these types of establishments I suggest that we seek legislation authorizing Chapel Hill (or perhaps all local governments) to require the following;


v     Any new Group A-2 occupancy to be established with a rated occupancy load exceeding 50 persons and that sells alcoholic beverages must have an approved NFPA-13 fire sprinkler system installed prior to issuance of certificate of occupancy.


v     Any existing Group A-2 occupancy with a rated occupancy load exceeding 50 persons and that sells alcoholic beverages must be retrofitted with an approved NFPA-13 fire sprinkler system within 5 years of the enactment of the requiring ordinance.  At the end of the 5 year period any Group A-2 occupancy without an approved sprinkler system will lose their certificate of occupancy.


v     Since the definition wording of Group A-2 includes the words “but not limited to” I would suggest that for the purposes of this ordinance we should include under the definition “dance halls, pool and billiard parlors and music clubs”.


I believe this level of fire protection would significantly reduce the threat of a fire tragedy in one of our bars or clubs and provide improved protection for our citizens and visitors.