What Are YOU Doing to Prevent Another Station Nightclub Tragedy?

There's been a lot of stuff written and said about the Station Nighclub fire and tragedy in which saw the loss of 100 lives and a further 200 injured.

I'm not here to call into question the response of the emergency services to this event.

But we MUST use events like this and 9/11 and Worcester and others to learn from.

What can we do better?

What worked?

What didn't?

What needs to change?

How many of us can actually stand up with our hand on our hearts and say we do enough to PREVENT incidents from occurring?

When undertaking Emergency Management, we must understand that there is more to emergency management than just response- however many departments don't see the benefits. I've even had discussions with some who think that mitigation takes away their job!

Emergency Management should centre around “The Comprehensive Approach”, as defined in the Australian Emergency Manual #1- Concepts and Principles, published by Emergency Management Australia.

The Comprehensive Approach is about encompassing all hazards and in recognising that dealing with the risks to community safety, which such hazards create, requires a range of prevention/mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery (PPRR) programs and other risk management treatments.

Emergency Management is about-
prevention/mitigation activities, which seek to eliminate or reduce the impact of hazards themselves
and/or to reduce the susceptibility and increase the resilience of the community;

preparedness activities, which establish arrangements and plans and provide education and information
to prepare the community to deal effectively with such emergencies and incidents as may eventuate;

response activities, which activate preparedness arrangements and plans to put in place effective
measures to deal with emergencies and incidents; and

recovery activities, which assist a community affected by an emergency or incident in reconstruction
of the physical infrastructure and restoration of emotional, social, economic and physical well-being.

That's a lot to take in, but it's vital that we understand it.

If we take Rhode Island as an example, (And please, please note- I'm not critical of what they did and how they responded. I simply want to use it as an example of things we can do and contributing factors. In fact Rhode Island recently implemented some new legislation to address many safety issues- go to http://www.fsc.ri.gov/statutes/ ), let's consider a few things-

A packed nighclub (Some have even suggested, over crowded)

Alcahol being served.

A live band.

A an even livelier crowd.

Illegal pyrotechnics in use.

The pyrotechnics ignited the structure.

In the panic of the evacuation, 100 people were killed and over 200 injured. Many in the emergency exits.

Now take this event and think about what's in your area. Do you have pubs/bars and nighclubs with live music or any other form of entertainment?

Is alcahol served?

Are drugs likely to be present?

I'm certain every single department the worl over could answer yes to these few questions.

Now, what have you (Your department) done in preperation for these events that occur on a regular basis?

Are building inspections done, and up to date?

Have you ever done walk throughs on non-event days? (I beleive that walk throughs are a fantastic chance to see a building in "near perfect" conditions and to then consider all the what-ifs that could occur.)

Are the essential services being serviced and in working condition? These things take a small incident such as a fire and stop it before it becomes a major event- Bradford in the 80's is a good example (or bad!) a small fire that escalated in under 2 minutes and engulfed a whole soccer grandstand, killing multiple people.

Is your department involved in the pre-planning for events?

If not, why not?

We need to be proactive. We need to get out there and be aware of what's going on in the community.

I teach event safety and assist organisations with event planning as a full time job and my wife hates going out with me- I spend the first 15 minutes looking around. Looking for the exits. Looking for fire extinguishers. Looking for likely issues that may hinder us getting out or the ermgency services getting in to assist. looking for likely hazards that may cause an incident to occur.

Do you? Does your department?

Have a look through your response vehicles- do you have the right equipment to respond to the scenarios likely to be encountered? Do you and your members have the correct training? Evacuation of events are very different to a standard workplace that we commonly encounter.

Other considerations include the changing dynamics of us. In a recent travelling roadshow here in Australia, Jake Paulls spoke about the changing demographics and lifestyles of the people today versus a number years ago when he and others lead the world in studying crowd dynamics and building evacuations.

We're getting bigger, or being blunt- fatter.

We don't move as fast. When we do move, we sway side to side.

The problem this now creates is that emergency exits such as stairwells are not made for wider people and not for larger people swaying side to side as they exit. This in turn slows the evacuation down.

9/11 highlighted issues with firefighters trying to get up the emergency exit stair wells, carrying equipment with them as they go. Again stairwells were originally designed to evacuate people out, but out of necesseity, we've had to use them to access the incident. Again this creates burdens of over crowded exit points.

Again, as is becoming commonpalce in my rants- we need to be proactive. We need to pre-plan. We need to train for these events.

Blame can be put on the band. Blame can be put on the owner/operators of the venue. Blame can be put on the regulators.

We all have a part to play....

They have occurred and will continue to occur- will the next one be in your response area?

Here's a few links of interest-




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Comment by lutan1 on May 9, 2008 at 2:14am
Don't forget daniel that no amount of budget cuts can stop us as responder being proactive and doing the simple things like I've said before, such as walkthroughs of venues, etc.
Other tha nfuel to drive the truck there, they cost nothing. Every bit of information we can get from owner/occupiers will help us when the big event happens...
Comment by Mike W. on May 8, 2008 at 8:20pm
Sadly Dan, no. It is and always will be about money. The cheaper they can operate their nightclubs, the more profit they can make. They will always place the bottom line over safety. Like Lutan was saying, we are the only protection the public has. When they go to a nightclub, they can enjoy themselves and forget about the troubles in their lives because they are relying upon us for their safety. If we don't try and abdicate this responsibility, then we are betraying them. Remember, the fire service is a sacred trust between the firefighters and the public. Don't ever discount your importance in the lives of those you serve.
Comment by daniel smith on May 7, 2008 at 10:53am
Thank you for all of the info! I have spent more time being an apparatus operator than anything else. Unforunately money will continue to get tighter and we as emergency responders will be forced to perform more tasks. Is there any proof that night club owners have learned from the station fire?
Comment by Mike W. on May 7, 2008 at 9:27am
G. Ramachandra in his report, "Human Bevaior in Fires - a Review of Research in the United Kingdom" stated in 1990: "In the stress of a fire, people often act inappropriately and rarely panic or behave irrationally. Such behavior, to a large extent, is due to the fact that information initially available to people regarding the possible existence of fire and its size and location is often ambiguous or inadequate." These are the exact circumstances that the occupants of the Station Nightclub were confronted with.

Planning for an event is important but fires like these happen in shopping malls, schools, hotels and restaurants. The fire service tries their best to make the places we work, live and play safe. But, when you compare the resources devoted to prevention and the totality of the problem, at best, we are fighting a never ending battle.

When you look at the major building fires in the United States in the past century, there is a commonality. The Iroquois Theater, Triangle Shirtwaist, Cocoanut Grove, Our Lady of Angels School, Beverly Hills Supper Club, MGM Grand Hotel, the Happyland Social Club, and the Station all suffered from the same inadequacies and deficiencies. The major causes of life loss were: lack of early warning, no installed fire protection, flammable & combustible interior finish, and inadequate means of egress.

Addressing many of these issues in existing occupancies can be a financial and political nightmare to communities across our nation that are suffere=ing from dwindling resources. Fire department staffing is being reduced and fire stations are being closed. Fire prevention personnel work tirelessly in an attempt to prevent incidents like the Station Nightclub fire but until they get meaningful support from our legislative bodies and the codes change to address the causes of these fires, they will continue to occur.

In the London Transport Board Research Report #95 it was reported that based on their studies the flow rate in level passages was 27 persons/min/ft (0.30m) width. A standard 36" entrance door will ordinarily provide 34 inches of clear width. The International Building Code assigns an egress factor of 0.2 in/person for this door for a capacity of 170 persons. When you consider the flow rate of 27 persons/min/ft to the same door, 81 persons can safely pass through this door. These figures don't seem to make sense. If we want 170 people to leave the building in a minute, then by the flow rate, the door would have to be 76 inches wide. This is in a non-life threatening condition. When their lives are threatened by fire, the egress density exceeds the jam point of less than 3 sq/ft/person, as was the case in the Station Nightclub - no one gets out.

If you place 1000 people into a banquet hall or nightclub and your main entrance is a pair of 60 inch doors, people will exit at the rate of 135 persons per minute under normal conditions. It will take at least 7 minutes for everyone to get out - about the time that fire service personnel are arriving. If there is a fire emergency, like the Station Nightclub, the flow rates rapidly decline and eventually stop as people become wedged into the egress door.

Highly combustible interior finish creates a firestorm where flashover occurs in 2 - 3 minutes. Even under optimum exiting conditions, with flashover occuring in 2-3 minutes and the flow of occupants at 7 minutes, there is a potential for over 500 fire deaths.

Of course an occupancy with 1,000 people would require three exits and the main exit would have to accomodate 50% of the total occupant load or 500 people. Even by this standard it would take about 4 minutes for people to evacuate - under non-life threatening conditions. We all know, however, the reality is that 90 percent or more of the occcupants are heading for that main door.

In order to save these lives, these occupancies need to have all the fire safety ammo at their disposal, i.e. large and plentiful exits, adequate emergency lights and EXIT sign fixtures, automatic sprinkler protection, a fire alarm system, and good compartmentation. All of these things cost a lot of money. Fire prevention can stem the use of combustible interior finishes and pyrotechnics. We can also make sure that occupant loads are not exceeded and available exit facilities meet the code. What we cannot do is legislate sprinklers, fire alarm systems, larger exits and compartmentation in existing structures without new codes, an infusion of money and the support of the government.

I have worked in fire prevention for over thirty years. I perform plan review services, inspections, code adoption, public education and much more. I have been able to acquire grants for a fire safety trailer, hazard house and fire extinguisher training simulator. But for most of my career, I was a full time firefighter and a part-time fire inspecdtor/educator. My bureau consists of me and a part-time inspector working 12 hours a week. The bureau doesn't even have its own secretary. I am greatful that I don't have a Station Nightclub or a Cocoanut Grove in my town but I am not foolish enough to believe that just because I don't, I can't experience a tragic fire that all my efforts cannot stop.
Comment by lutan1 on May 7, 2008 at 3:42am
Here's a few worth looking at-


The comprehensive report by NIST is at
Comment by lutan1 on May 7, 2008 at 3:39am
Dan, if you look at some of the links I've put up and also do a bit of a google search, there's some fantastic reports on this incident which really answer a lot of good questions and raise some good points as food for thought. NIST did some very detailed reseacrh and reports and simulations. Worth the hunt around on the net for....
Comment by daniel smith on May 6, 2008 at 8:40pm
Thanks all the news we saw about it said the doors were chained shut. I remember seeing a u/l video where they showed the fire development in the foam. How ever it was a while ago. I wonder how many other kinds of occupancies use the same or similar foam. Great topic Lutan and much food for thought!
Comment by Mike W. on May 6, 2008 at 8:30pm
Dan: The doors were not chained shut and a blitz attack line would have done nothing. Everyone that died, died before the fire department got on the scene. The fire was so fast that people didn't have a chance to escape. Many people jammed into the door frame and couldn't be rescued. They died in the door frame. A bouncer refused people from exiting near the stage. Most people went for the only exit that they knew - the main entrance.

The room flashed over in less than 3 minutes. The fire department didn't arrive for several minutes later. Very tragic.

The main culpret was packing foam that the owner had put on the stage to deaden the noise. That and indoor pyrotechnics. 100 people, mostly young people, dead.
Comment by daniel smith on May 6, 2008 at 8:14pm
Just a question as this fire never became a case study in the back woods of oregon. Were the doors chained shut? If so would an inspection just prior to the fire have prevented that? At least until the owners chained the doors shut! I agree with mike that wider or even double doors should be mandatory. Should we deploy blitz lines ie 2 1/2" as the initial attack line on these buisnesses due to the potential high fire load and life hazard? Or should we use those new mini masterstreams 500gpm to carry out the first attack? I know that the larger line requires more man power but I can't help but think that double the flow of a 1 3/4" handline would benefit us and our customers.
Comment by Mike W. on May 5, 2008 at 8:21am
If we are only going to look at exiting, start by requiring the main exit to be sized to accomodate at least 100 percent of the occupants. Currently, the main exit is sized to accomodate only 50 percent of the occupant load yet 90 percent of the occupants go to this exit in an emergency. Why not increase the size to accomodate everyone? Certainly, we must also have additional exits to meet travel distance requirements but, why must the main exit only be sized to accomodate fifty-percent?

Also, why 36" doors? Orignally this was considered 1 1/2 units of egress width based on the average shouler width of a male during World War 1. The average shoulder width at that time was 22" and 1 1/2 units of egress, or 34 inches, was required for exiting. A thirty-six inch door provides you with 34 inches in clear width. This did not take into account the speed that fire has gotten today.

Prior to 1950, a room flashover took 15 to 20 minutes. Today these fires are flashing over in less than three minutes as was exemplified by the Station Nightclub fire. People don't have time to escape. I have wondered about the exit signs in the Station Nightclub. I know that a bouncer refused to let people leave by the exit near the stage. That left three other exits. The main entrance/exit, an exit in the bar, and another in the kitchen. I doubt that the kitchen exit was even considered or known about, so that leaves the bar exit. Was there a directional exit sign to help lead people into the bar? Probably not. So the only exit that really was available or known about was the main exit. I think that in the future we need to size these doors for 150 percent of the rated occupant load. If the owners are going to overcrowd the space then let them make sure that the patrons can safely exit. Also, lets get rid of 36 inch doors and make the minimum door size 60 inches. This way at least two people can exit through the same door at the same time. There would be less likelihhod that people would become jammed into the door frame.

But, that is just my way of thinking.

Fire won't happen to me, it always happens to the other guy. So, I will sit and drink my morning coffee and lament about the tragic deaths reported in the newspaper. I will say a prayer for the victims when I go to church on Sunday and wonder how something like this could have been allowed to happen. I will thank God that it always happens to the other guy. I will look at my family and sigh a sigh of relief. Then I will forget all about it until the next time. That is how most people think.

I always wonder why we always have to settle for less.

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