Paper type: Essay Pages: 7 (1601 words)
From the Ashes Fire protection engineering, or the application of science and engineering to protect people and their environment from fire, has been around for centuries. The problem with advancements in this field is that they are preventative and, if ahead of their time, often seen as unnecessary. As a result, they are usually not considered or implemented until after severe tragedy has struck. A prime example of this is also the first recorded use of fire protection engineering. In AD 64, Emperor Nero had regulations drawn up that required fireproof materials used in the external walls to the city.
This, of course, happened only after an estimated seventy percent of Rome was lost to fire. More noticeable regulations happened in England in the 17th century, when London adopted codes requiring stone and brick houses with fire-resisting wall separations. It only took eighty percent of the city to burn to the ground in the Great London Fire of 1666 to get that progress made.
(Cote) This reactionary interest is the basic issue with fire safety. While advancements in the field are useful and no doubt save many lives each year, the only way an interest in advancement takes place is a devastating fire that snuffs out the lives of many.
This becomes a double-edged sword. Would it have been better for the Great London Fire not to have happened? Probably, but the advancements in urban building code, and the interest in the development of firefighting equipment have contributed to the greater good, and perhaps prevented a more catastrophic event. Through the 18th and 19th centuries, many changes came about to help the prevention or containment of building fires. As building engineering progressed, popular flammable building materials were replaced with non-flammable steel and concrete.
Urban engineering led to the installation of water mains and hydrants. Public fire departments are formed and outfitted with specialized equipment. Throughout the 1800s, the main purveyors and pioneers of fire prevention were the insurance companies. They would inspect factories, encourage them to install automatic sprinklers, and if they were deemed safe enough, sell them fire insurance. (Cote) While most likely motivated by capitalism and profits, their use of fire protection engineering to prevent the loss of property probably saved many lives and businesses. The Cocoanut Grove was Boston’s premier club.
Fully outfitted with a bar, restaurant, lounge, and an upstairs dining room, the former speakeasy was often packed on weekends. (Thomas) The theme of the club was a South Sea “tropical paradise,” and as a result was decorated with artificial palm trees, bamboo, and rattan furniture. Heavy draperies and satin canopies hung from the ceiling and walls. The bar was lined with artificial leather and suspended ceilings and fake walls concealed the original construction. (Duval) On the night of November 28, 1942, the club was packed with forty percent more than its official capacity of 600 patrons.
Shortly after 10 pm, a young couple in the Melody Lounge unscrewed the light bulb above them to give them more privacy. When the bartender noticed that the light was out, he told a busboy to replace it. The busboy, 16 year old Steve Tomaszewski, used a match to find the socket, and upon replacing the bulb, blew it out. Flames immediately started spreading across the highly flammable satin ceiling covering. No one in the Melody Lounge took the fire seriously at first and some even laughed as the staff attempted to put it out.
The smoke and flames spread rapidly, however, and within seconds the fire had spread throughout the lounge. (Duval) The patrons were forced quickly to the only exit, the stairs towards the lobby. The fire, seeking oxygen, was faster though, and it reached the stairwell before the escaping patrons could. A young woman running through the lobby with her hair on fire was the first sign of the fire upstairs. She was followed quickly by the smoke and the heat from the stairwell. Most of the guests rushed towards the main entrance, a revolving door that exited onto Piedmont Street.
Not many got through before the pushing lodged the door shut. Others in the main club moved toward the hinged door that opened out to Shawmut Street, and many did escape out this way. The patrons inside the Broadway Lounge, being the farthest away from the lobby, were only alerted to the fire when guests from the main club area ran in looking for an exit. The fire, having started approximately five minutes ago, was now in full force.
The smoke, flames, and heat quickly caused all in the lounge to panic and the only available exit, an inward opening door that led to Broadway Street, was blocked shut within moments. Thomas) Firefighters were on the scene seconds after the blaze started. The department already had several units on the block for an automobile fire and immediately went to work rescuing people near the entrances. Once they realized how dire the situation was, they called for more and more help. Firefighters and citizens broke the windows on the Shawmut Street side of the building in an attempt to pull as many people out as possible. The victims, suffering from smoke inhalation and burns, were transported as quickly as possible to area hospitals.
When they ran out of ambulances and emergency vehicles, newspaper trucks were used. (Thomas) For over an hour, Boston City Hospital averaged a new patient every 11 seconds. Out of the first 200 to arrive, 150 had already died, most from smoke inhalation. Once the flammable decorations had been burned up, the fire was extinguished rapidly. What firefighters found when they stepped inside was scarring. There were approximately 200 bodies piled several feet in the air by the main entrance, and another hundred or so piled by the Broadway Lounge exit.
The other casualties were found scattered throughout the club, some of them still at their tables. They were killed so quickly that they didn’t even have a chance to get up. (Duval) When the smoke had cleared and the dust had settled, the final death toll was at 492, making the Cocoanut Grove fire one of the deadliest fires in U. S. history. The death toll for the fire could have been far lower as there were three additional exits to the building. Unfortunately, at the time of the fire two of them were locked. The third, an emergency exit, had been bricked up to prevent guests from leaving without paying.
The public went into an uproar when they found out that club owner Barney Welansky used his mob connections to run his club without any consideration for Boston’s fire code. It has also been reported that only eight days prior, the building had undergone a fire inspection and the fire department inspectors had found “no flammable decorations” and determined that there was enough exits. As stated above, the only way to advance the field of fire safety is through tragedy, and that is exactly what happened in the days following the fire.
The fire commissioner’s 1943 report on the fire made several recommendations. These included the installation of automatic sprinklers in any room used as a nightclub, restaurant, or place of entertainment, and the prevention of using basement rooms as places of assembly, unless they had two exits to the outside and a protective door between the first floor and basement. The commissioner also suggests, “Exit doors in places of assembly to have so-called panic locks and no others.
Such exits to be marked by illuminated “EXIT” signs with the minimum candle power to be specified in the law, and supplied y an electrical system. ” This suggestion has become much more than just an idea. Every public building now has multiple bright red exit signs hanging from the ceiling. (Dsteffen) The report on the fire also dealt with the hanging decorations that went up in flames so quickly. It suggests against the use of any suspended cloth ceiling and any decoration with pyroxylin. It also brings about changes to the revolving door, which must now have folding leaves, or an external opening door next to it in case of emergencies.
Because of the fire, restaurants and nightclubs have been classified as places of public assembly, requiring stricter obedience to the regulations. In the aftermath of the fire, across the nation inspectors took a good look at their codes. Fire codes, implemented at the county or municipal level, give the city the choice as to what is safe and what isn’t. National organizations, such as the National Fire Protection Association, can only give suggestions as to what the code should be.
The counties, which may not have listened to the NFPA before, were certainly listening now. Fire inspections tightened up around the country. Inspectors kept an eye out for locked emergency exits. It was now required for rooms to have two exits, and minimum sizes for the exits were established. (Dsteffen) Exit signs were required in all buildings, and had to be lit up even when the power was out. The Cocoanut Grove fire was a hideous and tragic occurrence, and I don’t think there is a soul out there that will disagree with me.
However, it is hard to deny that the world is a safer place because of it. It almost singlehandedly ushered in a new age of building safety regulations, and is responsible for some of the things you will never notice while walking around a public building. While 492 people lost their lives in that nightclub, I’m confident they have saved countless more in the 70 years since.
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Cocoanut Grove Fire. (2018, Oct 09). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/cocoanut-grove-fire-essay