By: Brent Bronner
On this day in 1942 a fire broke out in the Cocoanut Grove Night Club in Boston Mass. This fire would claim 492 occupants and would change numerous codes dealing with exits, decorative finishes, and sub levels.
A busboy’s match ignited gauze draperies in a large basement with one locked exit, due to broken panic hardware. A crowd of over 1,000 was in the club that night, despite the occupancy of 600.
Many factors contributed to the loss of life and spread of the fire. The club had insufficient exits with doors opening inward and some being welded shut. Rooms had confusing floor plans with interior decorations of cloth, paper, and simulated leather. Suspended fabric was hung from the ceiling. Revolving doors, flipped over tables. Concealed and unmarked exits lead to the death toll.
Initial firefighters on this five-alarm fire were met with a heavy fire load. Welded doors, stacked bodies, and tables flipped over lead to troubles in making entry for rescue or suppression.
With the aftermath of the Cocoanut Grove Night Club many codes were changed including:
-Revolving doors will be supplemented by an outward opening hinged door.
-An assembly area will have a minimum of two exits.
- Prohibitions on the use of sub grade levels for assembly.
- Battery powered emergency exit lighting.
- Maximum occupancy certificates are displayed.
- Limitations on the use of combustible materials for interior finishings.
- Securing tables, as well as keeping a minimum aisle width.
- Listing nightclubs and restaurants as assembly areas.
Next time you are in an assembly, take a look around. Remember the victims of this tragedy, their sacrifice, and the safety improvements of these types of occupancies. Internet searches can yield multiple readings.
Pass it on!