Businesses face deadline for 'crowd manager' training

Businesses face deadline for 'crowd manager' training

Owners plan for stricter fire code enforcement in 2014

Businesses in many communities across the state have been given more than a year to comply with the state's new fire prevention and life safety code, but fire marshals say the deadline is approaching, and places of assembly with occupancy of 50 or may soon face stricter inspection.

The law, adopted by the state in 2012, states that a certified "crowd manager" must be on duty in buildings with an occupancy of 50 or more people. Previously, the crowd manager requirement only applied in places of assembly with a occupant load of 1,000 or greater, and was enforced in the state's larger venues, including night clubs and dining establishments. The certification, which previously carried no expiration date, must now be renewed every three years.

Many in the business community were unaware that the change technically went into effect on Jan. 1, 2013 and locally, fire marshals gave establishments some leeway in the deadline to comply.

"It comes down to history," said North Smithfield Fire Marshal Brian Gartland. "Things have happened in the past that have resulted in this being put into place."

Those "things" in Rhode Island include the Station Nightclub fire of 2003, where 100 people died at a concert in West Warwick. Since the tragic incident, businesses in the state have faced a growing list of new code requirements.

"Heightened levels of personal security along with statistical data have evolved into this newer version of the fire code, which has become more user friendly," explained Fire Safety Training Officer Vincent Quinterno in a communication sent out to businesses earlier in the year.

The crowd manager training has been offered via a free class at the state fire marshal's office in Providence, but some found it difficult to secure a convenient session. Moreover, the class scheduled for Dec. 12 was cancelled.

"I'll be doing inspections, but I plan to give some leniency," said Gartland. "I've been in communication with most of the businesses and we've had quite a few already come into compliance."

Quinterno said he has certified around 1,000 crowd managers this year, while he's only given out around 3,000 of the licences in his entire four-year career. The four-hour class ends with a 10 question test.

"I try to make things easy," Quinterno said. "We're not there to fail people."

Quinterno said the class focuses not just on how to handle situations like fires, but also how to handle potentially unsafe situations with crowds, such as blocked exits.

"I'm teaching people not to be complacent," he said. "You have to always be aware of your surroundings, whether it's an emergency situation or not."

The recertifications, which must be obtained every three years, can be done online.

The code applies to town gatherings including government meetings, and while it is not technically required during the school day at educational buildings in Rhode Island, a crowd manager must be on duty at all after school activities. Gartland said that 40 employees from the North Smithfield School Department, including teachers and those involved in extracurricular programs, were some of the first in town to receive the license.

The requirement does not apply to most churches: there's an exemption for buildings used strictly for religious worship with occupancy limits not exceeding 2,000.

"Private parties on private property are exempt from this kind of thing," Gartland said.

In North Smithfield, the code change has not met any real opposition.

"I haven't had any negative feedback from any of the businesses," said Gartland. "But I'm an extremely lucky fire marshal. We have great proactive managers and owners in this town that come right into compliance."

One business, he said, even came into compliance before the law was passed after the owner heard what was coming down the pike.

In Woonsocket, compliance is a little further behind, but city Fire Marshal Michael Morin said many businesses are, in fact, up to code.

"Nobody has complained," Morin said of the process.

Future "crowd managers" who haven't been able to get into a class will be able to sign up for a session to be held at The Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket some time during the next couple months, Morin said he hopes to have city establishments in full compliance by February.

"We want to get everyone on the same page," Morin said. "Which is why we're offering a class here in the city."

Currently, there are three sessions scheduled in January for crowd manager training. A class will be held on Saturday, Jan. 11 at Point Street Dueling Pianos in Providence from 1 to 5 p.m., and on Jan. 14 at the Ryan Center at the University of Rhode Island from 4 to 8 p.m. A larger session will be held at the Rosecliff Mansion in Newport on Jan. 22 from 1 to 5 p.m.

Pre-registration is required for all classes. To sign up, email the request to vincent.quinterno@sfm.dps.ri.gov and provide your name, phone number and establishment name.