November 28th Marks 70th Anniversary of Cocoanut Grove Fire

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The Society of Fire Protection Engineers Comments on the Boston Nightclub's Inadequate Building Design which Contributed to 492 Deaths

The Cocoanut Grove Fire reminds us of the threat that is posed by fire and the importance of designing buildings that that keep people safe from fire.

Shortly after 10 p.m. on Saturday, November 28, 1942, a fire at the Cocoanut Grove Nightclub in Boston left 492 dead and many others injured. This tragedy, which occurred 70 years ago, is still one of the deadliest fires in the history of the United States.

“Poor building design was a major contributing factor to the significant number of deaths and injuries,” said Chris Jelenewicz, engineering program manager with the Bethesda, Md.-based Society of Fire Protection Engineers. “Because the fire moved quickly through the building and there was a lack of proper building exits, many lives were lost.”

At the time of the fire, the Cocoanut Grove Club was a multi-function nightclub and entertainment facility. The nightclub was one-story high with a basement.

Although there are many theories behind the cause of the blaze, the direct cause still remains undetermined. The fire started in a basement cocktail lounge. Because combustible decorations and wall/ceiling finishes were installed throughout the building, the fire rapidly spread up the stairs and to the first floor.

Over 1,000 people were crowded into the building at the time of the fire, well above the building’s safe capacity. Many of the occupants tried to exit through the main building entrance located on the first floor. This exit quickly became blocked when the occupants attempted to exit through a revolving door that quickly jammed. Over 200 of the dead were piled up behind this revolving door. Others could not exit safely when they found several more locked exit doors.

Additionally, the building was not equipped with a sprinkler system or a fire detection/notification system.

“Because of the inadequate exits, the lack of fire protection systems and the rapid moving fire, the occupants just didn’t have enough time to get out alive,” said Jelenewicz.

As a result of this fire, many building requirements were enhanced to make nightclubs and other buildings with large populations safer from fire. Some of these requirements included provisions for improved exiting systems, safer interior finishes, emergency planning and the installation of fire alarm and automatic fire suppression systems.

“The Cocoanut Grove Fire reminds us of the threat that is posed by fire and the importance of designing buildings that that keep people safe from fire,” said Jelenewicz.

What is a Fire Protection Engineer?
According to the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, a fire protection engineer applies science and engineering principles to protect people, homes, workplaces, the economy and the environment from the devastating effects of fires. Fire protection engineers analyze how buildings are used, how fires start and grow, and how fires affect people and property. They use the latest technologies to design systems to control fires, alert people to danger, and provide means for escape. Fire protection engineers also work closely with other professionals, including engineers of other disciplines, architects, state and local building officials, and local fire departments to build fire safe communities. Fire protection engineers are in high demand. The number of available jobs far exceeds the supply.

About Society of Fire Protection Engineers
Organized in 1950, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) is the professional organization that represents engineers engaged in fire protection worldwide. Through its membership of over 5,000 professionals and 65 international chapters, SFPE advances the science and practice of fire protection engineering while maintaining a high ethical standard. SFPE and its members serve to make the world a safer place by reducing the burden of unwanted fire through the application of science and technology.

More information about SFPE can be found at http://www.sfpe.org.

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Chris Jelenewicz
SFPE
301.718.2910
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