Dangerous? Local officials stress nightclub safety

In the wake of two fatal club incidents– including the February 20 fire and panic that claimed 97 lives near Providence, Rhode Island– Charlottesville fire officials have put together a list of tips for club-goers and managers.

Firefighters began handing out the tip sheets the evening of Saturday, February 22, according to City spokesperson Maurice Jones.

Jones says Charlottesville already bans all indoor pyrotechnics. Even if, say, 1970s icons Kiss were slated to perform at Starr Hill?

"They'd be out of luck," says Jones. "As we learned in Rhode Island, to have pyrotechnics in such a small space is not a good idea."

Mike Lane, owner of the Outback Lodge, a Preston Avenue music hall, seconds that. "Pyrotechnics in a club with eight-foot ceilings– that's just stupid," says Lane.

Albemarle, meanwhile, has not taken any new safety steps, according to spokesperson Lee Catlin, because the county's fire inspection program is already "very rigorous."

Catlin says that while shows with indoor pyrotechnics, which videos indicate started the Rhode Island disaster, are not banned by the county, they do require a permit. And she notes that Fire Marshal Bob Lowrey now "can't imagine approving one."

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Another unsettling– if less horrific– accident occurred just before noon on Saturday, February 22. The roof of a Toys R Us store in Lanham, Maryland, collapsed, apparently having been weakened by heavy rain and residual snow. Nine people were injured.

Here in Albemarle, just a few hours after the Toys R Us incident, dozens of excercisers were suddenly evacuated from the ACAC fitness center at Albemarle Square. Roof worries?

No, says fitness director Hunter Schwartz. "It was just a false alarm."

Schwartz says an electronic fire alarm tripped for some unknown reason– perhaps because of moisture or humidity in the "pull station." Several fire engines responded, and the building was evacuated for 20 to 30 minutes. That left several swimmers– clad only in caps and Speedos– gathered on a back stairway in the cold.

"When we don't know why the alarm went off," explains Schwartz, "we always evacuate."

The incident occurred around 5:20pm Saturday, according to an evacuated exerciser, who spoke on condition of confidentiality.