A Note To The City Council On Sprinklers - And Response (6)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I ask you to take into consideration the undue hardship and unbearable financial burden that would be put on many small businesses with a new fire sprinkler ordinance.

In all the research I have done since the news of this was made public I could not find one fatality in a restaurant or nightclub in Tennessee from 1994 to 2010. That is according to ”Fire Team Tennessee media reported fire deaths in Tennessee”. In fact, in my research I could not find one fatality in a nightclub or restaurant ever in the state of Tennessee.

The building my business occupies, by meeting current codes, has smoke detectors, heat detectors, emergency lighting, clearly marked fire exits, a dry ansu overhead extinguishing system in the kitchen, and clearly marked fire extinguishers where required. We are inspected two to three times a year, including just a few months ago.

For my business to install a sprinkler system to meet the new ordinance requirements would cost an estimated $137,000 to $200,000.

My building's real estate value is around $300,000, less according to tax appraisals. There is no possible way, with us having to absorb a property tax increase, new storm water fees and a down economy, that we could take on that size of an expense. Now, or for many years to come.

If I were to remodel, sell the building or change the type of business, as with the “American Disabilities Act” we would take into account such costs. However, to have it handed down as a change in city ordinance is an undo hardship many small businesses cannot undertake. Hence the grandfather clause.

I have heard the quote.. “If it saves one life it is worth the cost.” With this mindset, since over 80% of fire fatalities are residential, the city should have a firehouse in every neighborhood. We would all agree that having a firehouse and truck on you block would save lives and make you 'feel' safer. However, the ideal situation and reality are two different things. The city could not afford to have firehouses in every neighborhood. If it were mandated, the city would go broke.

Also, there are some definitions that are not clear. My license from the Tennessee Alcohol Commission and the city of Chattanooga both state the Comedy Catch is a restaurant. If passed how will the city define the different gathering places and would churches, civic meeting places and school auditoriums also be considered and how will it be enforced?

The Comedy Catch and many other small businesses have been the backbone of this city for many years. We have given back to the city in taxes, employment, neighborhood concerns, charitable causes, and a relaxing fun night out.

If this ordinance is passed, the day it becomes enforceable is the day I, and many other small business will have to close shop. That is no laughing matter. Please do not pass this ordinance.

Michael Alfano
The Comedy Catch and Giggles Grill

* * *

As I read the letter concerning the proposed sprinkler ordinance for Chattanooga businesses, I was concerned by some of the statements. The author stated that in his research there had been no fire fatalities in night clubs in the state if Tennessee in recent years. This fact may be true, however, there have been several major loss of life fires in nightclubs in past history. I would refer the author to the Station fire in Rhode Island in the middle 1990's. There were 100 fatalities caused by a fast moving fire in a nightclub. This fire could have been contained quickly if sprinklers had been present. In addition, there are several other tragedies in our nations history that must be considered when discussing this issue. The Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, The Cocoanut Grove fire, and the Iriquois Theater fire are prime examples of major loss of life fires that we must learn lessons from.

Tennessee is not an island. Just because there has not been a fire like this in a Tennessee does not mean we are immune to a tragedy of this scope. It is imperative we learn lessons from these tragedies to prevent them from recurring. In addition, I would challenge the author to attempt to find a major loss of life fire that occurred in a properly sprinkled building. (I'll give you a hint: there hasn't been one).

Pete Van Dusen

* * *

Now you see what happens when you give people with too much time on their hands some power. Why in the world does the people we hire, our government, try and find ways to either cripple or destroy us? Common sense seems to not exist, at all, in all forms of government.

When they run for office they preach high and low how they are going to do what is best for the community, yet they want to ignore the facts and act like emperors. The best thing we can do is listen and watch what these elites do and say, even if they do not get to enact their laws.

Remember their incompetence and do not rehire them. If they go into private practice afterwards or need a job, remember their attempts to hurt you while they had the chance and shun them, do not patronize their business.

With people trying to enact more and more regulations without it hitting them also, it shows a lack of common sense and stewardship. You know scientists have done research where people push a button and it is suppose to electrically shock or hurt a total stranger. The outcome was really sad, if the people did not know the person they were injuring, they really pored it on and hurt them to the point of death. The good thing was that the people supposedly being injured were just acting, but you get the point.

In dealing with the people we have hired, our government, believing such a study is really easy to believe, and really, really sad. Fire them if you can, but surely do not rehire them if they enjoy hurting us.

Joe Blevins
Guild, Tn.
autofashions@aol.com

* * *

Mike:
I agree with you. Forty years ago there was a drugstore downtown called Liggetts, I think. Over the door were the words "Live and Let Live." That's still a good way to look at things, but it's just not politically correct. Politicians have to do something. It is not important that 98% of our citizens could care less about sprinklers, it's important that we change something. Otherwise politicians must be doing nothing. We can't have that.

But if I may suggest another approach to the subject. I know you have been there at least 25 years, paying property taxes, collecting beer and sales taxes and ABC taxes as well as paying city and county business taxes and health department fees and who knows how much income and FICA tax on yourself and your employees. What should be important to city management is to keep you going for another 25 years.

If my salary and pension was dependent on tax collections, I would study carefully the effects of shutting down a dozen clubs like yours over the next several years by requiring sprinklers. I would look carefully at how much your building would pay into my retirement fund if it is sitting empty, as so many are now on Brainerd, McCallie, Rossville Boulevard and South Broad. Every government employee benefits from your success.

I would think the best thing for government to do is to "Live and Let Live."

Harry Presley
Chattanooga
pharry752@aol.com

* * *

Mr. Van Dusen,
I suggest you do your research. The fire in Rhode Island occurred on Feb. 20, 2003, not in the mid nineties.

We may not be immune to fire but, we in Tennessee, certainly have a better track record for fires in nightclubs and the other businesses that will be hurt by this.

Now that we have that cleared up I feel compelled to interject on the topic at hand. Small businesses everywhere are at an extreme disadvantage when it come to anything that the local governments of their areas decide to put in place yet another ordinance. Granted, the idea of sprinkler systems is definitely without question a good idea. The other side of the coin is simply this...how will the installation costs be paid? Most small businesses including places like The Comedy Catch, Tremont Tavern, and various other places that will be harmed by this ordinance simply can't afford it. Many have just enough income to keep the place open and be just a little bit profitable.

There are many places that will be put out of business, raising the unemployment rates, and putting people on the street if this ordinance passes. Please, come up with a solution, allow existing businesses to be grandfathered in. Don't destroy the excellent small businesses that make up our city.

Paul Wilson
Chattanooga

* * *

Make no mistake about it. This ordinance is about protecting interests of certain big-money establishment owners and tilting the table against the little guys. Any proposal that would place this kind of financial burden on so many businesses without regard to any particular fire incident, recent, or in the distant past, is not only necessary, but an abuse of power.

Mr. Alfano is right. And no, the ordinance should not be passed with a grandfather clause, protecting existing businesses from potential competitors, it should never be considered. There is simply no remotely compelling case for such an over-reaching and crippling policy. I encourage all to contact their city council persons and advise them to put an end to this nonsense.

Paul Jackson

* * *

First, let me say, I love the Comedy Catch, and I have no desire to see anyone go out of business because of this. However, when I heard about this issue, I thought about three pretty notorious night club fires: The Station, The Beverly Hills Supper Club and the fire at Happy Land. Granted, none of these occurred in Tennessee, but I do think that the issue of sprinkler systems in night clubs should not be swept under the rug..this is not an "if" in my opinion, but rather a "when."

I am sure that the area night clubs have top notch safety measures in place, at least I hope they do. I think this is just one more option to consider, and much attention should be paid to this. The cost of ignoring the issue is exponentially higher than the cost of installing a sprinkler system. I end this with a paragraph from the investigation report on The Station Fire:

"A National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) investigation of the fire, using computer simulations with Fire Dynamics Simulator and a mock-up of the stage area and dance floor, concluded that a sprinkler would have contained the fire long enough to give everyone time to get out safely. However, because of the building's age (built in 1946) and size (4,484 square feet (404 m) believed the Station to be exempt from sprinkler system requirements. In fact, the building had undergone an occupancy change when it was converted from a restaurant to a nightclub. This change dissolved its exemption from the law, a fact that West Warwick fire inspectors never noticed. On the night in question, the Station was legally required to have a sprinkler system but did not."

Anna Creer
East Ridge


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