Natchez chief: New inspections coming

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 22, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; The first thing Natchez Fire Chief Paul Johnson thought of when he saw reports of a deadly nightclub fire in Rhode Island late Thursday night was the Rhythm Nightclub.

In fact, the deaths of at least 95 people in the Rhode Island fire are eerily similar to the 1940 fire that killed 198 people at a mostly black club in Natchez, many of whom were trampled as they tried to reach the exits or were suffocated by thick smoke. That fire remains the second deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history.

&uot;The first thing I thought about was the Rhythm Nightclub,&uot; Johnson said.

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But Johnson and other Natchez officials were also thinking of the present. In fact, Johnson and Police Chief Mike Mullins talked Friday about the need for better enforcement of building codes at Natchez nightclubs.

&uot;We’re in the process of tightening up on codes,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;I’ve assigned the fire marshal to check on these clubs during their business hours.&uot;

The fire marshal will make sure certain safety measures are in place, including having well-lighted exit signs, Johnson said.

One of the problems people at the Rhode Island club may have had is that they crowded toward one exit &045; the entrance they had come in &045; although other doors were open.

Johnson said the public can help protect themselves by being aware of the layout of buildings they enter, making sure they know where all the exits are.

Johnson said he is not as worried about newer facilities such as the convention center and the community center, located in a renovated car dealership, because those buildings are new or have been refurbished.

&uot;Those places are really safe,&uot; he said. &uot;The fire exits are well-marked.&uot;