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Looff Carousel lacks fire safety features

July 2, 2013

File photo/Ernest A. Brown

PAWTUCKET — Since 1910, both young and old have delighted in taking a spin on the handcrafted Looff Carousel in Slater Park. However, while still revered for its architectural beauty and historical significance, a recent fire safety inspection of the century-old structure turned up some modern day fire code violations.
The state of Rhode Island 's Building Code Commission requires an annual fire safety inspection of the carousel under the category of “special amusement structures.” According to the Fire Capt. Robert Thurber, the city's fire marshal, an inspection done Tuesday morning by Pawtucket Fire Department inspectors brought to light the absence of several important safety features regarding the structure that houses the carousel.
Chief among these is the lack of any type of fire alarm or smoke detector inside the carousel building, even though a popcorn machine is in operation on the premises. There is also no sprinkler system, fire doors, or “panic” hardware on the door handles, and just one set of emergency lights, among the listed inadequacies, Thurber said.
Thurber said the carousel, which only operates seasonally, would not have to be shut down. However, he said the city will have to come up with a plan to address the safety code issues. He suggested that the city appeal to the state Fire Board for a waiver to allow for some extra time to do the repairs.
Thurber said that some of the issues can be easily addressed, such as addition of new door hardware, more exit signage and additional emergency lighting. The installation of a fire alarm system and sprinkler system is more involved, particularly since the structure has no heating system to tie into.
Thurber said the fire safety inspection is required to be done annually on the carousel, and he can't speak to what happened in years past.
Several sources told The Times that concerns about the carousel's lack of fire protection are not new and that various city and parks department officials have been apprised of the situation over the years.
Cost and the fact that the facility is seasonal have apparently led to deferred action, they said.
In a conversation last year about the historic nature of the carousel, former fire marshal Steven Parent, now retired, said he had expressed concerns to city officials on previous occasions about the structure not having a fire alarm or sprinkler system. He had suggested that a box alarm could be tied into the adjacent Daggett House. He had also been instrumental in getting a sprinkler system donated and installed inside another seasonal park attraction, the Haunted Tunnel.
Antonio Pires, director of administration and public safety director for the Grebien administration, told the Times that he had just been made aware of the problems and hadn't yet reviewed the fire inspection report in detail. He said, however, that if the deficiencies do exist, the administration will be coming up with an action plan to address them as well as making a formal appeal to the state for a waiver.
Pires also said he didn't think there was any reason to stop the carousel from operating, due to the fact that in the summertime, there are so many open doors that there would be numerous points of ingress and egress. If need be, he said there could be a fire detail assigned to the building or other such measures taken to ensure the continued operation for the season.
The carousel is open on weekends only in the springtime, and just began daily operations during July and August. It is also available for children's birthday parties. On the application form available through the Parks and Recreation Department, several warnings are given, including that there is no smoking or open flames allowed inside the carousel building, and that the facility has no heating or air conditioning.
The Looff Carousel, built in 1895, is the second oldest antique wooden carousel in Rhode Island and one of the six oldest in New England. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

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