Photograph by Nikki Kelber

Four years ago, I wrote a post about the question: “Who has responsibility for building safety?”  When it comes to door openings – is the last person who worked on the door the one who would take the blame for a non-code-compliant modification?  If one of us who “knows better” sees a door that is secured in a way that prevents egress, do we have a responsibility to do something?  If a code official decides to do their grocery shopping in stores outside of their jurisdiction to avoid seeing the local problems, does that relieve them of their responsibility?

That 2016 post was motivated by a fire at the Ghost Ship – a warehouse in Oakland, California that had been repurposed as work space and living space for artists.  The “before” photos that surfaced after the fire were enough for me to know that I would not have felt comfortable being in that building.  I can’t imagine attending a party there – like the one that was taking place when the fire occurred; 36 people were killed in that fire.

I’d be willing to bet that most of us have seen egregious code violations before.  It’s not always easy to do the right thing, in fact, my kids have protested my building safety activism during many of our family vacations.  But it is, in fact, our responsibility to help ensure the safety of building occupants.  As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” 

Settlements have recently been reached with the families of those killed, as well as a man who was severely injured in the Ghost Ship fire, and this has revived news coverage of the tragedy.  There is an article in the current edition of NFPA Journal and a post on NFPA Xchange site following up on the fire.  The post talks about the responsibilities of the enforcement system, and includes this paragraph:

Safety is created by an ecosystem made up of codes, skilled workers, regular enforcement, and public understanding. It is not a spontaneous condition. Most critically, it requires the government never takes its role in leading these efforts for granted.

YES – that’s exactly right!  We can all be part of the ecosystem of safety.  I was speaking just yesterday with one of my coworkers, who is on a panel exploring how to help reduce germs spread via doors and hardware.  He told me that he used some of the code information from my webinar on touchless openings, to help remind the group that they could not overlook the code requirements when focusing on touchless solutions.  As we have seen in the rush to secure classroom doors, the code requirements are sometimes disregarded while trying to address what seems like a more pressing problem.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – if we don’t learn from past tragedies, they are bound to be repeated.  Here are a few resources to help you to learn more about the Ghost Ship fire and the importance of code-compliant egress:

NFPA Journal: Under the Radar

Oakland Fire Department Origin and Cause Report

New York Times: The Oakland Fire: What Happened Inside the Ghost Ship

ABC7Now: Timeline: Here’s how the investigation into the deadly Ghost Ship fire unfolded

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