Speak Up: Night Club Fires

I am sure by now everyone has heard about the devastating night club fire that took place in Santa Maria, Brazil, on Jan. 27 in which more than 230 people perished, most of them college students. When I first heard of this fire, I immediately thought of...


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I am sure by now everyone has heard about the devastating night club fire that took place in Santa Maria, Brazil, on Jan. 27 in which more than 230 people perished, most of them college students.

When I first heard of this fire, I immediately thought of another devastating night club fire that took place at The Station night club in Rhode Island in February 2003, killing 100 people.

Do you know what these two fires have in common? There are a couple of things. Both were started by pyrotechnic devices used during band performances, but, more importantly, the reason for such a large loss of life can be attributed to the fact that exits were blocked or the people attending these events were not aware of the exit locations.

Too many times when we go out somewhere, we think that the door we came in is the only way out. Actually, there may be several exits. Both of these fires had people trampled and people were found stacked on top of each other at the front entry doors. Both buildings were also equipped with several other exits that were hardly utilized – in the fire service, we call this the “cattle gate” effect, in which everyone heads for the front doors, creating a cattle gate in which people are trampled and block off the exit entirely.

If we in the fire service could just get the message out to the public to just take the time – usually less than a minute or two – to locate another exit or two, they would increase their chances of survival. In others words, let’s teach them to take a minute to save a lifetime, and know how to get out when you go out.

Assistant Chief Michael Custer

Fort Detrick Fire & Emergency Services

Frederick, MD

The writer has been a career firefighter for 19 years, including 15 years in the fire prevention branch, where he has been assistant chief of prevention since 2011. He also served for two years as a Fairfax County, VA, fire marshal and is a past chief of the Solomons, MD, Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad.

Nozzle selection

After reading Captain Jason Sowders’ letter “Are We Defeating the Enemy?” in the January issue, I feel compelled to offer the following: While his discussion of the high heat release rate of modern furniture has been well documented, his argument for the use of straight-stream nozzles relies on limited and outdated research.

Chief Lloyd Layman’s research into the use of fog nozzles was not conducted with the modern nozzles of today, but with fixed-pattern nozzles, commonly referred to as “Navy” nozzles or Rockwood (the major manufacturer) nozzles. They could only develop a straight stream or 45-degree fog pattern (as determined by bale position).

Following development of the adjustable-stream nozzle, additional research was conducted, and Keith Royer at Iowa State University produced the movie “The Nozzleman.” This production introduced us to three methods of fire attack – direct, indirect and combination. In that movie, the use of a straight stream was mandated for a direct attack and the desired pattern width was described for the indirect- and combination-attack methods. Unfortunately, Captain Sowders limited his discussion to fires requiring a direct attack where a nozzle designed for the indirect method of attack is used.

If all of the structure fires we encountered could be fought with a direct attack, he would have a point in advocating for a straight-tip nozzle, but that is simply not the case. There are times when entry by personnel is impossible due to fire intensity, or prohibited by the “two-in/two-out” rule. In some cases, the indirect attack or combination attack is more appropriate. There are also cases where hydraulic ventilation is appropriate. In these instances, the same rules apply as for the use of positive-pressure ventilation; a vent on the opposite side of the fire must be provided. (We also fight many fires not even in buildings where a fog pattern is desirable.)

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