By now we all know of the calamity at the Brazil night club “KISS” where 235 people, mostly college students lost their lives. First reports are telling us that there was one way in and one way out. Security hindered the fleeing patrons in fear of folks not paying their bills. The cause appears to be that the band lit flares and set the combustible sound proof ceiling insulation on fire. (Let’s keep our guns holstered and wait for the investigation to tell us what happened so let’s proceed with caution.) This last item should sound alarmingly familiar. If you’re a student of fire (a fire nerd and fire history buff like me) the first thing you thought of when you heard the news, was the Station Night Club fire in West Warwick, RI in 2003. The band (Great White) lit indoor pyrotechnics which ignited the combustible sound proofing on the ceiling. Ninety eight people perished in a matter of minutes as the fire rapidly traveled throughout the club. Two died later in the hospital. (Go to www.NIST.gov for the follow up investigation, excellent graphics and videos of the fire. They built also the stages in their test facility and recreated the fire with and without sprinklers. One or two sprinkler heads on the stage and the incident probably wouldn’t have made the evening news past the West Warwick, RI local news affiliate.)
My old buddy John Salka (Retired FDNY Battalion Chief) just posted a blog entry on Firehouse.com (2/1/2013). He discusses the fact that a city in New York State (Watertown) has told their firefighters to no longer inspect buildings. They will leave all of it to a 4 person city wide code enforcement unit. The City Manager gave this order upon her exit on her last day of work at the end of January. (Nice job coward.) John went on to say “when firefighters make annual visits to the commercial buildings they will be responding to, they become familiar with the layout, the exit and entrance locations, the fire load and just about every other feature of the location. This makes a firefighter more effective and successful and certainly reduces fire losses and firefighter injuries and fatalities. To limit or restrict firefighters from familiarizing themselves with the buildings they will be fighting fires in is insanity. This action by the city is certainly short cited and sets the stage for disaster.” We said my friend.
Here’s a fire department that is taking the initiative to go out, pre-plan their district, pick up and write violations and really get to know their response area. (We know lots of you don’t do this or hate doing it but it really works. “The building is your enemy, know your enemy” -- Francis Brannigan.) We must continue to get out in the district and look around. Ask your seasoned officers if you’re a non-believer. Not enough fire departments today have enough staff in their Fire Prevention Bureaus or Fire Marshal’s office to get it all done. (Inspections, investigations, public education, re-inspections, plan review, etc. etc. etc.) Even if they have staff, the local company inspections are essential to fire ground safety and survivability and are an enhancement to the work being done by the Inspectors and Fire Marshals.
The fire in West Warwick made international news just as the fire in Brazil did. Many years ago it took a long time to get the word around the world. Now it’s instant. Do people all over the world still have that “it can’t happen here” mentality? Yes. If we don’t learn the lessons of the past, are we doomed to repeat them? We just did. Get out there, take a good look around your district and save some lives. Fire Prevention work saves lives. The lives of your customers, your brother and sister fighters and maybe even your own.
Read more on some of the cataclysmic public assembly fires of the past. Maybe these will motivate you:
Iroquois Theater Fire (1903) - 605 dead
Rhythm Club/Natchez Dance Hall (1940) - 209 dead
Cocoanut Grove Night Club (1942) - 492 dead
Beverly Hills Supper Club (1977) – 165 dead
The body count is high enough. Let’s get going.