Life Safety Historical Fire Presentation

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(By Fire Chief Matt Love) There are moments in history which have defined, molded, and shaped the fire service, some we speak about often and some are forgotten.  A few weeks ago, our Life Safety Division provided a very informative presentation at our Board of Commissioner meeting to educate our community on the critical aspects of fire prevention.  The presentation highlighted three significant fires which drove a cry out for change in fire and life safety code development.

The first fire presented was the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire which took place on May 28, 1977 and resulted in 165 deaths and over 200 injuries.  The leading contributing causes and factors of this disaster included:

  • A number of pre-existing fire and life safety code violations that the club owners failed to address.
  • Numerous construction projects and renovations conducted over the years without permits, rendering the adherence to life safety code requirements and laws useless and transforming the club into a literal deathtrap occupants were unaware of.
  • The clubs electrical wiring was fabricated outside of code, cited as being “an electrician’s nightmare”
  • The clubs interior finishes and decorations included foam padded furniture, carpeting, and decorative paneling which acted as tinder allowing the rapid spread of fire throughout the structure.
  • As a result of the multiple hidden renovations, roof supports were missing, accelerating the structures instability under fire conditions.
  • The out of code club was void of the required emergency egress routes for customers to safely exit.
  • Overcrowding was quite possibly one of the most horrific contributing factors, with the club rated for a maximum occupant load in the cabaret room of 756, however on the night of the fire there were an estimated 1,360 people in the cabaret room.

The second fire presented was the Station Night Club Fire of Rhode Island that occurred on February 20, 2003 and resulted in 100 deaths and 230 injuries.  The many causes and contributing factors to this horrific event included:

  • The use of pyrotechnics without permitting, inspection, and approval. This has resulted in the use of pyrotechnics, whether indoors or out, requiring review and permitting by the fire department. Requiring special event permitting, and active meetings with promotors and occupancy representatives, alleviates life threatening alterations.
  • The means of egress widths and locked exit doors resulted in the majority of victim’s deaths. The ability for a bar patron to exit an assembly occupancy, creates the code standards for the required minimum number of exits.
  • The need for Certified Crowd Control Managers in special events where the anticipated number of attendees exceeds 250 persons allows occupants to be directed to the closest exit rather than stacked at the door they used to enter the event.

The final fire presented was the Ghost Ship Warehouse Fire that occurred on December 2, 2016 which resulted in 36 deaths.  The Ghost Ship Warehouse Fire has become the catalyst to illustrate deadly consequences of structures being used well outside of their intended use and related fire and life safety codes. Built to be a large area storage warehouse, the structure had been illegally converted into an artist studio and dorm, housing the artists appearing on showcase, their families, friends, and a variety of transient visitors.

This use resulted in makeshift structures and living units being created throughout this giant warehouse structure, generating permanent living space for hundreds, in a building only officially known and protected to be dry storage.

There were many deficits on the side of the public officials related to this horrific event. There had not been an inspection conducted at this property for approximately 30 years, and the 30 year old inspection approved its sole use as a warehouse. During the investigation it was discovered that there had been multiple visits from several different government agencies, however no action was ever taken.

  • With these various site visits, there was no record of any communication between agencies in regard to the state of the structure, the use of the structure, and the obviously visible unsafe conditions present.
  • There had never been applications submitted to change the property’s use from a warehouse to residential. These processes would have provided the opportunity for local agencies to identify necessary changes for compliance with applicable fire and life safety codes. These codes are aimed at protecting residential occupants such as fire walls, alarms, and detection and suppression equipment.
  • Sadly, reports identify all 36 deaths were caused by smoke inhalation and if there had been a fire sprinkler system the occupants would have likely been able to safely escape the structure.

We would like to invite our community to look into these historical fires, however, Viewer Discretion is Advised.

Fire and Life Safety Codes provide the avenue to educate and enforce minimum standards to protect our community, visitors, and first responders.  Our hope by providing this glimpse into the history of these events is that each viewer gains a better understanding of the importance in what our Life Safety and prevention resources are tasked with each day.

We thank our community for their continued support of our Department as we provide life safety inspections that are crucial in keeping our residents, visitors, and first responders safe!