Most comply with Massachusetts sprinkler law

RANDOLPH - Several establishments in Randolph, including the Randolph Country Club, are at risk of being shut down for not meeting a November deadline for installing sprinklers.

Selectmen approved changing the bar's liquor license from a club to a regular license, allowing owners to open a restaurant, which may not be subject to the sprinkler law.

But since the license was not signed by the fire or building departments, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission should, by law, refuse it, Fire Lt. James Hurley said.

The law, passed after the 2003 Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island that killed 100 people, requires all establishments in Massachusetts used as nightclubs, discotheques, dance halls, bars or for similar entertainment purposes and with seating capacities of more than 100 to install sprinklers.

The Carousel Family Fun Center in Whitman is another establishment that has not complied with the law.

Although the Carousel, a roller-skating rink on Auburn Street, is not in compliance, many facilities throughout the state have installed sprinklers, fire officials said.

The rink's owners, Charlene and Robert Conway, said they want selectmen to persuade Fire Chief Timothy Travers to re-evaluate his ruling, issued under the 2004 law, that the business install a sprinkler system.

The Conways appealed Travers' order, but it was rejected. The couple declined a further appeal to Superior Court and missed a Nov. 15 deadline to install sprinklers, prompting Whitman to take them to court.

That case is set to be heard at 2 p.m. today in superior court in Brockton.

In the only other court case the state Department of Fire Services is aware of, the law was upheld, said department spokeswoman Donna Nelson. That resulted in the closure of a Boston lounge.

Although it is a state law, individual fire departments are responsible for enforcement, Nelson said.

Failure to install sprinklers could lead to the closing of the establishment or loss of its liquor license. Businesses can appeal to a state board, Nelson said.

Statewide, compliance "is fairly widespread," she said.

In Plymouth, all 30 affected establishments have met the law, said Battalion Chief Michael Young, who is in charge of fire prevention.

"We issued several orders to sprinkle and got a couple establishments to install sprinklers," Young said. "The ones that didn't signed memorandums of agreement which outlined conditions they had to operate under."

Those included updating fire alarm systems to cut off music and raise the house lights when activated, he said.

"We definitely got a lot of compliance and an increase in fire prevention," he said.

Installing a system can be expensive, one reason the Conways have not added one.

It can cost from 2 to 3 percent of the construction cost for a new building and from 4 to 5 percent for remodels, Young said.

The benefits are worth spending the extra money, Young said.

"Certainly sprinklers have a wonderful track record in saving lives," he said.

The effect was visible in two fires in Plymouth last year. One, at a condo development in Manomet, caused minimal damage and was contained by sprinklers before firefighters arrived. The other, at an apartment building without sprinklers, killed one person and caused substantial damage, Young said.

"The difference is night and day," he said.