A Burning Question
March 5, 2003 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Fire Disaster, What Have We Learned? The recent Great White nightclub tragedy has made it imperative to study previous deadly fires in public buidlings, such as the Iroquois Theater, the Cocoanut Grove, the Beverly Hills Supper Club, the Natchez Rhythm Club, the Happy Land Social Club, and the 1944 Hartford circus fire. The sad thing is that many of these deaths could have been preventable.
posted by jonp72 (13 comments total)
Seven members of the administratve and teachng staff of my small Ohio school district died in that fire. I can tell you that the community still remembers the events in great detail and that folks from there still check for multiple exits when they in unfamiliar surroundings.
posted by dhacker at 4:11 PM on March 5, 2003

I was referring to the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, sorry.
posted by dhacker at 4:12 PM on March 5, 2003

Facinating and quite, quite sad. General ineptitude and a lack of care so often cause so many of these disasters.

As per the article, I also came across a page about The Morro Castle. Other pages of maritime fires and calamities farther up in the site.
posted by lampshade at 5:11 PM on March 5, 2003

Here is an interesting newspaper account of a historical fire: Theatre Royal, Exeter, 1887, which apparently was central to the introduction of the fire safety curtain in British theatres.
posted by raygirvan at 6:21 PM on March 5, 2003

No mention of the Our Lady of the Angels fire?
posted by Oriole Adams at 7:13 PM on March 5, 2003

dhacker: An important similarity between the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire and the Station/Great White concert fire is that toxic fumes may have increased the death tolls in both cases. Seat cushions were blamed for many of the deaths in the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire and foam soundproofing may have played an equally deadly role in spewing toxic fumes in the West Warwick fire.
posted by jonp72 at 7:14 PM on March 5, 2003

Triangle Shirtwaist. (Warning: link contains photographs of bodies)
posted by hippugeek at 8:14 PM on March 5, 2003

When fires are in the news, as the recent tragic fire in Rhode Island, one of the sources that I turn to for news and an insider's perspective is firehouse.com.
This site came to my attention when six firefighters from my home town lost their lives in 1999.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:37 PM on March 5, 2003

The Winecoff Hotel fire in Atlanta in 1946 killed 119 people. As a result, fire-safety codes were almost immediately updated across the country, which had a very real impact; as the historical marker at the Winecoff states, "the fact that the Winecoff fire remains the worst hotel fire in U.S. history
is testimony to its impact on modern fire safety codes."

(N.B.: I used to live down the street from the Winecoff -- it's creepy...an abandoned old hotel, boarded up at the street level, but with open windows and rotting curtains blowing with the breezes just a few stories up.)
posted by Vidiot at 10:51 PM on March 5, 2003

The UpStairs fire in New Orleans, 1973, only killed 32 people, but it was a major turning point in New Orleans gay rights, when, during the memorial service at the Metropolitan Community Church (which lost several members in the fire due to it being a regular hangout after Sunday services), the mourners chose to face the news crews outside, despite the stigma of coming out.

I could only find info about it here, but if you go on the Gay Heritage Walking Tour, Robert Batson tells you the entire heartwrenching story.
posted by Katemonkey at 5:26 AM on March 6, 2003

Fire Disaster, What Have We Learned?

"According to the United States Fire Administration, no more than two people have ever died in an ordinary fire in [a] building with a working sprinkler system."(A 'guest comment' column from the National Review).
posted by LeLiLo at 6:19 AM on March 6, 2003

My grandmother died in the Beverly Hills fire.

I was six years old at the time of the fire and only remember bits and pieces. My mom and I talked about it when the 25th anniversary rolled around and it was in the news.

I found out all kinds of stuff I never knew:
  • My mom had to identify her body. Brutal.
  • She identified my grandmother because she made the dress my grandmother was wearing. Doubly brutal.
  • My grandmother pretty much died in a pileup by one of the fire exit doors, which was chained shut. What a horrible way to die.
Things I've learned from these tragedies:
  • Always stay on the lowest available floor of a hotel.
  • Always know where the fire exits are. It's like a reflex for me.
  • If a place is overcrowded, get the hell out. There doesn't have to be a fire for you to get trampled to death.
The laws that were enacted after BH and every other significant fire were supposed to prevent this shit from happening, yet the same scenario keeps playing itself out again and again.

The pukes that ran the bar deserve some serious jail time for putting up the eggcrate soundproofing. It's unforgivable to have such a blatant disregard for your patrons' lives.

I'm not sure what should be done with Great White. They shouldn't have set off pyrotechnics in a place that small. With any luck, they'll fade into oblivion like John Davidson - the performer my grandmother went to see that fateful evening.

There are enough hair bands out there to fill the void, but nothing could fill the void the Beverly Hills fire left in my life.
posted by hawkman at 3:35 PM on March 6, 2003

We distributed this information to all of the high school students at the school where I work:


Sound advice, which surprisingly was quite well received by the students.
posted by jeribus at 5:40 PM on March 6, 2003

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