Top District of Columbia fire, housing and school officials yesterday announced extensive plans to tighten enforcement of fire safety regulations for "public gatherings" in the wake of last week's Cinema Follies fire that took eight lives.
Among specific steps, School Supt. Vincent Reed said he has already ordered the "immediate opening" of all exit doors in public schools that have been locked and chained for security reasons.
Also, housing chief Lorenzo Jacobs said his inspectors shall "re-interpret" city regulations to require two exits from multistory theatres, dance halls and other "public gathering" places, rather than a single exit as required in the past.
Jacobs said all exits would have to be accessible, clearly marked and unlocked. This has been a point of contention in the Cinema Follies fire. Survivors of the fire say flames and smoke prevented them from leaving by the main stairway and an exit door leading to the roof of the two-story theater was padlocked and unmarked. Employees of the theater deny the door was locked but acknowledge in was unmarked.
Fire Chief Burton Johnson said he has ordered an increase in staff to inspect "public assembly" places such as theaters, restaurants and hotels.
Johnson, Jacobs and Reed made the joint announcements after the second 90-minute closed door meeting in four days on safety regulation enforcement problems.
The meetings were ordered by Mayor Walter E. Washington following the Cinema Follies fire as well as published reports of locked exits in some public schools and grumblings among middle-level fire department officials that present fire safety enforcment [PARAGRAPH ILLEIBLE]