Beverly Hills Supper Club
I remember the horror we all felt when the news came out of Kentucky on that fateful day. 165 dead...and we wondered, how could this happen?
Lessons learned from club fire have saved lives
SOUTHGATE, Ky. (AP) - The lights went out, smoke and fire burst
into the Cabaret Room and patrons jumped from table to table to try
to find a way out of the Beverly Hills Supper Club.
The crush of bodies made escape for some impossible, even though
an exit was less than a dozen feet away.
"You couldn't breathe and you couldn't see," Mildred Abner
said. "Going out of the building, there was a left and a right
turn. The people who got pushed to the right didn't make it.
Somehow, I got pushed to the left."
The fire that occurred 25 years ago this week killed 165 people
and injured 164 others. It also resulted in safer buildings and
made a big change in the legal system, The Cincinnati Enquirer
On May 28, 1977, as many as 2,800 guests and employees were in
the club on a hilltop across the Ohio River from Cincinnati,
authorities later determined. An estimated 1,300 of those people
sat at tiny tables jammed into the Cabaret Room, nearly triple the
number of occupants the room could safely accommodate.
The building also did not have an automatic sprinkler system,
now regarded as a common fail-safe in public buildings and required
in many areas.
"Because of lessons learned from tragedies like the Beverly
Hills fire, commercial buildings are much safer today," said
Steven Grover, vice president of health and safety and regulatory
affairs for the National Restaurant Association.
"The Beverly Hills disaster and the (1980) MGM Grand Hotel fire
(in which 87 people died in Las Vegas) were a couple of horrific
incidents that formed the basis for our current thinking when it
comes to fire protection in public facilities," he said.
Litigation after the fire set national precedents.
Cincinnati attorney Stanley Chesley was the attorney for
survivors and fire victims' families.
On their behalf, he sued the family that owned the club and
about 1,200 other defendants that included insurance companies, the
companies that made the club's faulty aluminum wiring, and the
makers of the club's furnishings, carpeting and other materials
that gave off poisonous gases when they burned.
"Beverly Hills was the first time there was a class action, or
a procedural tool where you put all the cases together," Chesley
"It lets the defendants know that they have to deal with all
the cases at once. Most defendants protract litigation by going one
case at a time, but they can't do that in a case dealing with 165
Some of the safety and emergency response legacies of the
Beverly Hills disaster include:
- Better fire suppression systems and the inclusion of sprinkler
systems in virtually all public buildings.
- The manufacture and use of more fire-resistant materials and
furnishings in commercial and residential construction.
- More competent inspectors and stricter enforcement of building
codes and occupancy limits.
- Better design of public buildings with more emergency signs
and lighting, and wider aisles near exits of public buildings to
accommodate panicked crowds in emergency situations.
- Improved community response plans for disasters and improved
counseling for rescue workers and other emergency personnel
responding to catastrophic events.
"What happened in our community in 1977 was exactly how the
United States felt when the World Trade Center collapsed and all
those people were killed," Chesley said.
He was criticized at the time for filing a lawsuit within days
of the fire. But he said that was the only way to obtain a federal
court order preventing the state from immediately tearing down the
supper club and destroying evidence.
Ultimately, Chesley's strategy earned the 281 plaintiffs $50
"At the 20th anniversary observance (of the fire), a young
woman told me that she and her five brothers and sisters were able
to go through college and keep the family together as a result of
the awards in the Beverly Hills case," Chesley said. "That meant
a lot to me."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press
Random Thoughts on the Beverly Hills Fire
[list=1][*]It's something that hit a bit close - I was there for a college banquet exactly 1 week before it burned.[*]Several off duty or volunteer firefighters who were there for dinner died trying to make rescues. Let's not forget their memories.[*]All quotes from Stan Chesley about Beverly Hills are self serving at best. That was the first in a series of large settlements he used to make himself rich & famous. He took an ad out in the Sunday Enquirer this week talking about the fire & praising all who helped the victims, including those who helped secure their futures. Wonder if he dislocated his shoulder patting himself on the back.[/list=1]