When Hot-Spot Night Clubs become too Hot

Someone once coined the phrase, “All PR is good PR.” Sorry, I beg to differ. All PR is not good PR if it involves fire.

Here’s a pop quiz: What do all these places have in common? The Wuwang Club, The Santika Pub, the Ozone Disco Club, Happy Land, The Club Cinq-Sept, The Beverly Hills Supper Club, The República Cromañón Nightclub, Rhythm Night Club,  Cocoanut Grove Nightclub, and The Iroquois Theater.

Answer: All of the above clubs had preventable fires that resulted in over 3,230 deaths and countless more injured, as well as severe criminal charges and heavy-duty civil penalties, bankrupting many involved.

And who was held responsible? Each case differed, but in general, any of these people might be considered negligent in a fire: night club owners, passive investors, band managers, event sponsors, pyrotechnic companies, manufacturers of sound-proofing foam, city inspectors, fire marshals, town mayors, the city, town, and state – anyone who might have been actively or passively involved.

The 2003 fire at The Station in West Warwick, Rhode Island claimed 100 lives, including the lead guitarist for the band, Great White. The owners of the club and the band’s manager were charged with 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter. In addition, the owners were fined over $1 million in statute violations.

In civil action, over $175 million has been paid out to the victims’ families of the tragic event (break down of civil suit pay-out: http://bit.ly/1rvHg5w). Along with the owners of the club, the band, and the band manager, the following were also found liable in the civil suit:

  • The city of West Warwick
  • The state of Rhode Island
  • Sealed Air Corporation – who provided the soundproofing foam in the club (which turned out to be highly flammable)
  • JBL Speakers – accused of using flammable foam inside their speakers
  • Home Depot and Polar Industries (Insulation)
  • Anheuser-Busch – beer sales and promoter of the concert
  • Clear Communications – one of its radio stations promoted the concert
  • Providence television station, WPRI-TV – a video journalist was accused of blocking an exit while still filming the fire and not allowing others to escape

The criminal and civil consequences of this fire was far-reaching and demonstrated that anyone involved in such an event could be held responsible – no matter how insignificant their active role.

If you want to cheat, cheat at cards. Don’t cut corners when it comes to human lives and your livelihood. Here are some things you can do to err on the side of caution:

  • Build according to code.
  • Design better than code. Design more exits, exits closer together, and larger exits. Keep stampedes, smoke inhalation and flames in the forefront of your mind during the design process.
  • Even if your establishment is grandfathered in under some clause or another, do yourself a favor and make sure you are up-to-code regardless of the grandfather clause.
  • Enforce the maximum capacity limits for your establishment.
  • Do not use illegal outdoor fireworks and pyrotechnics indoors. Take the time to research and vet companies that specialize in indoor pyrotechnics.
  • Treat your high density acoustic sound proofing foam and all flammable decorative and construction materials with fire retardant by a reputable company.
  • Schedule routine inspections and test those sprinklers to make sure they are adequate.
  • Pay attention to the inspection tags on your fire extinguishers and make sure all personnel know how to use them.
  • Make sure exits are not blocked or obstructed in any way.
  • Make sure none of the exits are locked during operating hours.
  • Make sure exit signs are not covered by banners or stage props.
  • Invest in training. Make sure your bouncers/guards are trained not to block exits behind stages, and are well-trained in crowd management and safety procedures.

If you’re a sales rep for a distributor or brand of alcohol, beer, or wine, and you’re sponsoring a special event, make sure you know the establishment is up-to-code and up-to-date on inspections. Your company is on the line here too.

Many of the clubs mentioned above had fire exits blocked to prevent people from entering without paying. Instead of blocking the exits, it is in your best interests to hire additional security. What it will cost you in labor is much less than the civil and criminal penalties that could ensue otherwise.

Follow this advice and you can become a famous club – scrimp on this advice and you may become infamous instead.

Until next time….

 

Station on Fire The Station fully engulfed in flame

Station sign The Station sign after the fire

References:

http://listverse.com/2010/03/08/top-10-modern-night-club-fires/ – Worst modern night club fires

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_-V3q5cjFs#t=21 – Video of Cocoanut Grove survivors

http://www.insurevents.com/articles/rifire503.htm – Interesting article on the lawsuits and insurance involved in the Station fire

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgR3Q4H7fMA&list=UUvLgSBUpXaIVoWjXUSZkUVA – Series of videos focusing on the Station fire survivors. Sponsored by Tyco Fire Protection Products

http://www.bu.edu/today/2013/damages-station-nightclub/ – Ten years later, the Station fire

http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/occupancies/nightclubs-assembly-occupancies – Safety tips and warnings for club owners and club goers

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