This article is intended for anyone who owns and/or
operates a public venue - theater, nightclub, restaurant, bar, meeting
hall, hotel, convention center, or other entertainment or hospitality
property; educational facility, house of worship, or other establishment
where the general public gathers in large numbers - works for such a
venue, or provides 3rd party subcontract services including security
services, DJ and live entertainment, as well as others who are
interested in the entertainment and hospitality businesses.
NOTE: While this article was originally
written in 2004, fire safety and codes issues are a timeless subject
that should be taken into consideration every time a venue is open for
business and every time a show or event is planned. Safety never goes
out of style. PPC - 11/19/2007.
As candlelight vigils were held last month for the
100 souls who perished in the Station nightclub fire (Warwick R.I.) last
year, many of us in the restaurant, hotel, concert production,
nightclub, sporting event, and theater businesses were asking ourselves
the question, "What if that happened in my establishment or at my
And that is a question that everyone in the
hospitality and event businesses, from real estate owners to concert
promoters and entertainers to venue management needs to ask themselves.
HISTORY: Other venue
fires have taken higher tolls, including Chicago's infamous Iroquois
Theater inferno in 1903, where roughly 600 people perished. But in the
past quarter-century, the Station fire ranks as the 2nd worst - exceeded
only by the flames which consumed 165 lives in Kentucky's Beverly Hills
Supper Club fire of 1977. The Station tragedy was overall the 4th worst
in entertainment fire casualty numbers in the United States, and the
worst as far as number of deaths associated with a "rock & roll"
type of event or establishment.
STATION NIGHTCLUB FIRE - VIDEO FOOTAGE
WARNING: THIS FOOTAGE GRAPHICALLY DETAILS HOW FIRE
CAN QUICKLY ENGULF A BUILDING AND TAKE LIVES. NOT FOR THE FAINT OF
HEART - VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
While the loss of life at the Station nightclub was
1/6 of the death toll inside the Iroquois Theater, what made it a
double tragedy is the fact that it was 100% preventable. Highly
flamable shipping foam that was never intended to be used in
construction lined the ceiling above the stage (used as makeshift
soundproofing), and anything hot that might have come in contact with it
could have potentially ignited it. That could have been anything from a
par lamp to a cigarette butt hurled at the stage. Add in the fact that
a fireworks display (which requires a hazmat license to transport) that
should have never been used inside an enclosed space with such a low
ceiling - you can see where this author's arguement is heading.
"We don't as a society take fire safety that seriously." - David Lucht -
director of fire safety studies, Worchester Polytechnic Institute
(quote from Billboard Magazine, Feb 28, 2004 page 14)
THE LEGALITIES: The fire
generated a horde of catcalls nationwide for tougher fire safety codes,
prompting some states to announce legislation to update regulations for
public establishments. While a handful of other states have passed
token legislation addressing the issue, only Rhode Island has enacted
the sweeping changes called for by safety experts, according to reports
in entertainment trade journals and public news sources.
For example: The State of Virginia impaneled a
special task force to write up new codes. But instead of mandating
sprinkler systems or regulating indoor fireworks, the panel simply
called for "tougher enforcement measures", whatever those enforcement
measures might be. To make the Virginia panel's findings even more
questionable, most of their recommendations applied to establishments
with capacities in excess of 300 people, so clubs like the Station
wouldn't have been included anyway.
MY CONCERNS: 100 years
has passed since the Iroquois Theater fire, yet fire safety standards
for entertainment venues are still lacking in uniformity across the
country and are unevenly enforced from locality to locality. What I
fear will happen is that new safety codes, if and when they are enacted,
will be inconsistent and unevenly enforced between jurisdictions. To
make matters even worse, a traveling music show or rock act might find
themselves unable to stage their show in certain venues due to being in
violation of a local jurisdiction's specific codes ordinance, in spite
of the possibility that their show may have been in compliance with
safety regulations in other localities. Also, there will likely be
instances where enforcement is needed but won't happen due to lax
ordinances and enforcement and the local level.
It may take a decade or more for individual states
to update their codes and even longer for venues to come into compliance
with those codes. In the meantime, many lives will be put at unnecessary
risk while touring shows will be additionally burdened by the necessity
of compliance with safety rules that may vary unwieldily from venue to
WHAT TO DO: So what are
you going to do in the meantime to insure that your establishment,
concert, or event is safe from fire and other hazards? Here is a brief
list of suggestions as to where to start.
Contact your local
building inspector or fire department and make sure you have all the
requisite permits to operate your nightclub, restaurant, theater, rave
party, live event, conference, praise & worship service, or other public
venue or gathering. If not, make arrangements to get the
necessary permits as fast as possible, and make sure you understand
what requirements must be met in order to operate your facility or event
safely and legally. You don't want a fire, police, or codes official
shutting your show down due to lack of paperwork. You may need your
premises inspected by an insurance underwriter and/or government
official before permits are issued in some localities.
Make sure you carry
liability insurance of a sufficient amount to cover your ass incase
you get sued for something, regardless of whether or not you are at
fault. Anyone can be sued, including independent entertainers,
servers, and security staff for things that happen in an establishment
or at an event where they are working or performing. Just because you
may or may not own the real estate or be the party host, if an incident
happens and you are involved in some capacity, you could be in the loop when it comes to
litigation, and it's best that you prepare for the potential of such
litigation if you work in 'da biz. ---- An
insurance broker or agent can help you determine how much coverage you
need. You may want to also consider business insurance as well to cover
your assets (no pun intended!), whether
it's real estate, bar equipment, furniture, sound & lighting equipment,
vehicles, band instruments, etc.
Make sure all fire
suppression devices (including but not limited to hand-held
extinguishers) in your place of business are in
good working order. If you are not sure as to how to inspect your
fire safety equipment, your local building codes department, fire
department, or insurance company's underwriting inspector can help you
with it. Some jurisdictions and insurance underwriters require fire
suppression equipment be installed in public venues and be certified
annually and tagged accordingly. It is also important that your
employees understand how to use these devices and in what situations
they are to be used.
Have an adequate number of
security personnel working during hours of operation. According
to guidelines on the NFPA website, for every 250 patrons in your
establishment, a "crowd manager" (my terms are "security" and "bouncer")
should be on duty. From my experience in running shows, I would up that
number to one crowd manager or security person per 100 to 150 patrons,
depending on the type of show. Better to have an extra security person
than be shorthanded in an emergency.
Have a fire emergency plan
prepared, including how to direct event patrons out of the venue in an
orderly fashion. For such a plan to be useful it is important
for your servers, security personnel, and show techs to be familiar with
it. Your local fire department or building inspector can help you
prepare such plans. Some jurisdictions offer expert training for your
employees on premises, covering subjects from managing crowd panic to
handling medical emergencies. If available, taking advantage of public
sector safety assistance is a smart idea.
Keep all egresses (ie:
exit doors) free and clear of tables and chairs, audio/visual equipment,
scenery, or other obstacles that may imped the flow of patrons out of
your venue in an emergency (I've heard of shows being shut down
because of speaker boxes sitting in locations which the local fire
inspector found unacceptable).
Make sure that structural
holes, such as in walls, ceilings, or floors, which are not functional
be filled or covered over. Some idiot might decide to use it
as an ashtray, and in turn start a fire inside the wall.
Make sure that all
electrical fixtures are in good shape, and replace those that aren't.
Not only can a defective electrical device be a fire hazard, it
can be a shock hazard as well (this author knows from
DISCLAIMER: This article is for reference purposes only and is not
a substitute for professional advice specific to your venue, show, or
business. Please consult your local building codes office for more fire
safety information as well as your local occupancy licensing