Photo: News San Miguel

Last weekend there was a large fire at a wedding venue in the city where I live.  Fortunately, there were no fatalities, although several dozen people were treated for burns and smoke inhalation – including the bride.  The shocking photos and videos spread quickly across social media, and everyone in town was talking about it.

The fire came up during a conversation with some friends, and of course I mentioned my concerns about egress – based on other fires that had occurred throughout history as well as the code issues I see here frequently.  The recent fire grew very quickly because of the flammable decorations, reminiscent of the fire at the Cocoanut Grove Nightclub in 1942, where 492 people were killed.

I talked with my friends about the locked and blocked exits at the Cocoanut Grove, the revolving door at the main exit, and how today’s codes help to protect us.  They had never really thought much about fire safety – most people who have lived in the U.S. take it for granted.

Unfortunately, we all need to be vigilant about code compliance, as the focus on security sometimes results in non-code-compliant situations.  I think most of us have seen exit doors locked with cable locks, chains, and creative retrofit devices.  Those security measures may have initially been used “after hours”, but eventually they may remain in place even when the building is occupied.

Today is the anniversary of two tragic fires where egress issues played a major role – the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911 that killed 146 people, and the fire that occurred at the Happyland Social Club in 1990, resulting in 87 fatalities.  These are just two of many tragedies that illustrate the importance of code-compliant egress, but today’s anniversary is an opportunity for reflection.

“History repeats itself endlessly for those who are unwilling to learn from the past.” ~ Leon Brown

Thank you to Tom O’Connor of Weilgus and Sons for reminding me of today’s anniversary.

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