January 29, 2013

Maine clubs cool to pyrotechnics displays

Fewer than 10 permits were issued to state nightclubs last year, the Fire Marshal's Office says.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Local and state fire safety officials said Monday that there is virtually no demand for permits authorizing indoor pyrotechnics displays in Maine.

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Firefighters work to douse a fire at the Kiss Club in Santa Maria city, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, on Sunday. Firefighters say that the death toll from a fire that swept through a crowded nightclub in southern Brazil has risen to 231. Officials say the fire broke out at the club while a band was performing.

AP

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Fewer than 10 such permits were issued to Maine nightclubs last year, according to the state Fire Marshal's Office. Workers at some city nightclubs say the clubs don't allow them.

The lack of demand can be traced in part to the fire in February 2003 at the Station nightclub in Rhode Island, authorities said. Sparked by a band's pyrotechnics display, that fire spread so fast it trapped patrons inside, killing 100 people.

Sunday morning's nightclub fire in Brazil, which killed more than 230 people, was another reminder of the danger of setting off fireworks indoors.

Lauren Wayne, general manager of the State Theatre in Portland, said that from time to time a performer's booking agent will inquire about an indoor pyrotechnics display. The answer, she says, is always the same.

"It's a house policy. We have never done it, and we never will," Wayne said.

The venue on Congress Street has a seating capacity of more than 1,800 people.

Maine's permitting system requires an applicant to fill out an indoor-pyrotechnics display form. The applicant must identify a licensed technician who will be on site during the display, and provide detailed information about the types and numbers of flame effects, as well as diagrams of the discharge and spectator viewing areas.

State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said each venue is evaluated for safety -- including its sprinkler system and emergency exits -- before a permit is approved.

If a permit is granted, the fire marshal does a test on site before the pyrotechnics are set off during a performance, and makes sure the club has an event manager present.

That person oversees the display and must alert the public to the location of emergency exits before the show begins.

"The public has an expectation that when they go in there, they will be safe," Thomas said. "I think we (the state) are in pretty good shape."

Maine started regulating indoor pyrotechnics displays in 1995, after an incident at a nightclub in Portland.

Four people were hospitalized after a flash pot exploded during a music performance at the T-Birds nightclub in the Bayside neighborhood. The club is no longer in business.

Flash pots are containers that hold pyrotechnic powder. When they are ignited, they create a flash or puff of smoke.

Capt. Chris Pirone of Portland's Fire Prevention Bureau said the incident at T-Birds was the last time he can remember when a nightclub pyrotechnics display in Portland went awry.

Pirone could not recall the last time a Portland nightclub sought a pyrotechnics display permit. Pirone has been with the fire department for 18 years.

"We have a pretty hard and fast rule of there being no pyrotechnics or smoke machines," said Kaitlyn Duggan, a bartender at Geno's Rock Club on Congress Street. The rule went into effect after the Rhode Island nightclub fire.

Geno's has a seating capacity of just under 200 people. It hosts three or four band performances each week.

Thomas said the only venue in Portland that stages indoor pyrotechnic displays is the Cumberland County Civic Center.

He said the Portland Pirates hockey team and organizers of special events, such as Disney on Ice, have occasionally sought pyrotechnics display permits.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

 

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