Honolulu club owners
report that fire safety
is closely monitored

By Nelson Daranciang and Jason Genegabus,

When 1980s heavy-metal band Great White played three shows last month at Honolulu nightclub Gussie L'Amour's, the topic of pyrotechnics never came up.

Fireworks used at the start of Great White's concert Thursday night caused the fire that burned down the Station in West Warwick, R.I., killing at least 96 people.

Using fireworks for their Honolulu shows "was never discussed," said Dennis Smith, owner of the Nimitz-area nightclub. "Over here they would have had to go purchase it somewhere. ... I think they had to get some kind of authorization for it, too. It was too much of a hassle."

Great White did not use the pyrotechnics during shows performed at Gussie L'Amour's in 1998 or 1999, either, Smith said.

He said his club, which is in a single-story concrete building with four fire exits and a metal roof insulated by fire-retardant tiles, is inspected by the Honolulu Fire Department twice a year. Because the club's fire capacity is more than 300 people, Smith must apply for a yearly assembly permit, which means annual inspections.

"I get pretty thoroughly inspected each year," he said.

From the air, the burned-out remains of the Station nightclub where at least 60 people died in a late-night fire Thursday in West Warwick, R.I., is seen in the center top yesterday. Fire apparatus and other emergency vehicles were still on the scene yesterday along with construction equipment to begin to remove the debris.

Honolulu fire inspectors, meanwhile, said they check nightclubs for compliance with the county fire code at least once every two years as required by law.

And establishments can be subject to more frequent inspections if the department receives complaints, said Lloyd Rogers, battalion chief of the Honolulu Fire Department Fire Prevention Bureau.

"As soon as we get a complaint, we jump on it as soon as it happens," Rogers said.

The last time there was a fatality in a nightclub fire on Oahu was on Dec. 12, 1990. A 25-year-old Schofield Barracks soldier threw a Molotov cocktail through the front door of Dolly's Lounge in Waimalu Shopping Center. A 51-year-old Aloha Airlines pilot died in the fire. Six other people escaped the flames.

Rogers said that because the back door was locked, the patrons and employees were forced go through the kitchen and over a fence to get out of the bar.

The soldier was later convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Until 1995 the Honolulu Fire Department had a full-time inspector to do routine night inspections, "but it didn't seem warranted," Rogers said. The department receives one complaint every one or two months from the public or police, he said.

If there is a complaint at night that requires immediate attention, the fire investigator, who is on call 24 hours, will be contacted. He in turn will call for assistance from the nearest fire station, area battalion chief, police and liquor commission.

Fire inspectors check for overcrowding and whether exits are locked or blocked. If a violation is found, the inspector will issue a notice of violation. If the owner of the establishment fails to correct the violation, the department will issue an order to comply. If the violation is still not corrected, the department will issue a final notice, then a citation.

Violating the fire code is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Fire officials on the Big Island and Maui County said fires such as the one in Rhode Island are unlikely because large nightclubs on their islands are in relatively new buildings that follow higher building code standards.

Virtually all the new and large nightclubs, such as the Tsunami Night Club on Maui, are built in hotels that require smoke alarms, sprinkler systems and multiple exits, they said.

Maui Fire Lt. Scott English also said only a special kind of fireworks is allowed indoors through a county permit, and a fire inspector is present during the exhibition.

English said that as a rule, people attending special events should be aware of the location of the exits, in the event of an emergency.

Big Island Fire Chief Darryl Oliveira said the department is trying to inspect commercial buildings once a year to make sure they are in compliance with fire codes.

In Maui County the buildings are inspected once every two years, English said.

Star-Bulletin reporter Gary T. Kubota and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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