Global Lessons: Bringing Fire Prevention Home

While residential fires continue to be our biggest problem in the U.S., fires in public buildings, notably assembly occupancies, while occurring less frequently cause the largest loss of life and property. Recently a fire in a Bangladesh factory killed...


Our fire problem in assembly occupancies' most notably started in 1903 at the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago, which claimed 605 people, largely women and children. The theater opened that same year with notable fire safety concerns to include the lack of sprinklers and fire extinguishers. While a list of causes can fill pages of study in the fire's ignition, spread, and ensuing death, it can be summarized as the lack of application of basic fire safety principles' known at that time and lack of public understanding of fire spread and dynamics leading to the ignorance of fire codes and panic - predictable thus preventable.

Push the forward button to Coconut Grove in Boston, in 1942, when a fast moving fire claimed 492 people in less than 12 minutes. The K.I.S.S. principle again summarizes lack of application of basic fire safety principles' known at that time and a lack of public understanding of fire spread and dynamics leading to the ignorance of fire codes and panic. Again predictable and thus preventable.'

Fast-forward to Cincinnati, Ohio, 1977 to a place called the Beverley Hills Supper Club, where a fire killed 165 people. Why? You guessed it; lack of application of basic fire safety principles' known at that time and a lack of public understanding of fire spread and dynamics leading to the ignorance of fire codes and panic. Predictable - preventable.

Lastly (for now) moving forward to Warwick, RI, in 2003, to a place called The Station nightclub, a mirror fire to the Coconut Grove fire 63 years of forgotten lessons before, where a fire claimed 100 people by the nights end and even more as the subsequent years claimed victims of the both physically and psychologically injured victims. Once again the same K.I.S.S. principles' apply here as the underlining plot of these stories continues to spin and produce tragedy.

We've gone forward enough and are now sitting in present times, and what do you think Bangladesh and Brazil will teach us? K.I.S.S.

What is your fire department doing about it? There is no doubt fires like these have been table topped to death, and SOGs and SOPS have been adjusted operationally to prepare line companies to react and respond should a fire of this nature erupt; however, what about the other lessons coming out of all of these fires? What are we doing to address the lack of application of basic fire safety principles' known at this time and lack of public understanding of fire spread and dynamics that will lead to the ignorance of fire codes and to panic?

Does your departmental training program include lessons to firefighters on basic fire codes and how they applied to the fires and losses of life so that the next time they are doing a "walk through" of an assembly occupancy during a strategy and tactics orientation they may actually find the terrorist waiting to strike and stop the tragedy before it unfolds, or K.I.S.S. principle - doing their job and what the public expects? Are your firefighters educated on the dynamics of fire spread through structures beyond the basics of flashover, roll over, and backdraft, so that they fully understand in a way able to effectively educate the public on the need for fire drills and why a fire extinguisher is needed every 75 feet (generally)? Have your firefighters received training on basic human response and reaction to perceived danger to enable them to better understand the reasons and importance behind "trivial" fire codes and to educate the general public on how to handle a fire situation properly; thus the need for Exit signs and fire drills. K.I.S.S.

Something as simple as the proper installation and use of fire extinguishers can save hundreds of lives. Fire extinguishers were absent in the Iroquois Theater, the Coconut Grove club had eleven fire extinguishers present and it's inconclusive as to whether four were partially used or just discharged after being tipped over, there is no mention of their use in Kentucky, and while fire extinguishers could clearly be seen mounted on the walls at The Station nightclub there is no report of any being used.

Do you offer community training for businesses or social clubs on how to properly handle and react to an emergency situation; there are many reports are available on global studies from China to Israel on their theory of individual citizenry and their responsibility during a crisis, along with successful programs to teach their communities how to react and handle them. Just like in everything discussed, these are all lessons learned that are out there and available to your department and firefighters, but are you branching out to expand your fire protection approach to include this information? Is ignorance of this readily available information a moral or ethical excuse when a fire or death occurs? Or does your department remain in a traditional reactive mode waiting for the preventable risk to occur and then throw bodies at it?