The Significance of having practical exits
Built in 1916, Cocoanut Grove was one of Boston’s hottest nightclubs, but the owners completely ignored fire safety standards inspired by the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Instead of providing safe exits and clear, unobstructed paths, they filled the space with false walls, locked doors, and narrow hallways before letting in more than 400 extra people.
Though 600 was the limit for Cocoanut Grove, more than 1000 people were there when a lit match came in contact with a piece of décor. Though the fire raged for only 12 minutes inside the nightclub, it killed 492 people and injured another 200 people, largely because of the lack of accessible exit doors. The main exit – a revolving door at the entrance – jammed almost immediately, causing up to 200 of the deaths that night.
Fortunately, other establishments paid attention to the tragedy at Cocoanut Grove. Businesses began to follow the national Fire Protection Association (NFPA)’s codes and improving their exits and exit paths. Three years after the disaster, the NFPA introduced changes to the Code that affected lighting, signs, loose chairs, stairway enclosures, and even the types of interior finishes that could be used in similar settings.
It shouldn’t take a catastrophe to take fire codes seriously. Now that we know what happens when exits aren’t abundant and easily accessible – or when flammable trash or construction materials are exposed to open flames – we must all work together to prevent similar disasters in the future.
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