Club inspections stepped up
Highly flammable foam used for soundproofing found in Short North bar
Tuesday, March 4, 2003
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
The same material that fueled a Rhode Island nightclub's fatal fire was found in a Short North nightclub during an inspection last week.
Little Brother's was ordered on Wednesday to strip the foam, being used for soundproofing, from its stage or treat it to make it fire-retardant, its owner said.
The club, at 1100 N. High St., had the foam out of the bar in time for a concert Friday night, Assistant Fire Chief Greg Paxton said.
Before the order, fire inspectors tested the foam by putting a lighter to it.
"It immediately burst into flames,'' Paxton said.
The owners of the Station in West Warwick, R.I., also used highly flammable packing foam on its walls for soundproofing, the Associated Press reported last week. The club was engulfed in flames in less than four minutes.
That blaze, which killed 98 people on Feb. 20, has prompted the Columbus Division of Fire to step up its visits to all venues that attract large groups indoors.
The Fire Division moved a few people from other staffs to the inspection crew to get those checks done quickly.
"We're taking a closer look at all the nightclubs,'' said Capt. Wesley Fullen, inspections supervisor.
Paxton said the division began checking places such as nightclubs, convention centers and schools last week. He said the staff is trying to do all of the checks -- up to 500 venues -- within the next two weeks.
Little Brother's was the first Columbus club in which inspectors found the foam being used for soundproofing, Fullen said.
Inspectors will be looking for it at other Columbus clubs, he said. "If it's out there, we'll find it.''
According to Fire Division records, Little Brother's was last inspected in May.
Little Brother's owner Dan Dougan ran Stache's at 2404 N. High St., which closed when Little Brother's opened in May 1997.
Dougan said last night that he bought the material in 1998 and thought it was fireproof.
He said firefighters never told him it was a problem.
Paxton said that's possible. The Rhode Island fire has caused inspectors to check soundproofing materials more closely, he said.
"Our awareness of that material is heightened,'' Paxton said. Inspectors no longer are "as trusting'' of club owners who tell them materials have been treated to make them fire-retardant, he said.
After the city's inspection, Little Brother's held a non-smoking show Thursday night, Dougan said. Then he and bar manager Ike Peters removed all of the material -- about 200 square feet -- on Friday.
"The city did their job. They're common-sense people,'' he said.
The brick building, which has a capacity of 400 people, has no sprinklers. As one of the bands performed sound checks last night, Dougan showed where fire extinguishers and exits are, as well as where the flammable material used to be.
The club "once in a while'' attracts heavy-metal groups or the types of bands that would use fireworks, Dougan said.
Little Brother's never has applied for a permit for its bands to use fireworks in the building, said fire inspector Melvin Hoston.
There never has been a fire in the club.
"And that's the way we want to keep it,'' Paxton said.
In last week's inspection, Little Brother's also was found to have "minor electrical violations,'' Fullen said.
The most common fire-code violations at the city's nightclubs in recent years have concerned locked or blocked exits, unlighted exit signs and untested fire extinguishers, officials said. A Dispatch review of fire-inspection records for 21 city nightclubs last week showed that nine had one or more violations.
C'MON C'MON THE CLUB IS OPEN