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The Comfort Inn Fire that Killed Six People Sparks Talk of Increasing Safety Measures at Hotels
By Dawn Bryant, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 

Jan. 27, 2004 - Some Grand Strand hoteliers double-checked their safety measures and local fire officials pressed for stricter sprinkler laws Monday, a day after a fatal fire at a Greenville motel. 

The early-morning fire at the Comfort Inn on Sunday that killed six people already has sparked talk of increasing safety measures at hotels. 

Myrtle Beach went beyond state rules when it started in 1980 requiring sprinklers in new hotels with four or more stories, a rule that came years before South Carolina adopted its sprinkler requirements. 

The state since 2000 has required sprinklers in new hotels with three or more stories. Hotels built before the rules started don't have to have them, unless they've done substantial renovations. 

That worries some area fire officials, especially after Sunday's fatal fire. The Greenville hotel didn't have sprinklers and wasn't required to. 

"We do have quite a few buildings that don't have sprinklers where something like that could happen," said Capt. Les Williamson of the North Myrtle Beach Fire Department. 

"Time and time again we see incidents [nationally] where numbers of people are killed and sprinklers could have limited that. It's extremely frustrating, especially when it's all about money." Local and state leaders should revisit the rules to ensure all high-occupancy properties, from hotels to office buildings, are properly equipped, said Martha Hunn, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association. 

"When anything like that [Greenville fire] happens, it makes you stop and think," she said. "It's something we should look at." Some local fire departments already were stepping up their efforts before the Greenville fire. Horry County officials are redoing the operating guide for high-rises as taller towers are going up along the oceanfront. 

Myrtle Beach fire officials are inspecting hotels more frequently. 

And a wave of development along Ocean Boulevard also is helping, as many of the older hotels not required to have sprinklers are being demolished to make way for new towers that must have them. 

Some Grand Strand hoteliers who don't have sprinklers say they have other ways to keep guests safe. 

The Firebird Motor Inn isn't equipped with sprinklers, but has fire alarms, smoke detectors with battery-backups in each room and standpipes, all of which are checked regularly by city inspectors. 

"You have to have those things taken care of," said Debbie Braden, Firebird's general manager. "If something bad happens, we'll be ready." The Hilton and Embassy Suites at Kingston Plantation have sprinklers and other safety systems that are regularly checked, general manager Bob Barenberg said. Three weeks ago, area fire stations trained on the high-rises. 

"We take this very seriously," he said. "Our responsibility is the safety of our guests. 

[Sunday's fire] just reinforces in our business how careful we have to be." 

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(c) 2004, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. HLT, 


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