THE BEVERLY HILLS SUPPER CLUB FIRE TRAGEDY OF 1977
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Table of Contents
The entire world has taken the initiative of implementing measures and policies to curb fire accidents across all public buildings and entities. It is due to the occurrence of significant fire accidents in the world that has brought about building codes, increase in firefighting machinery and personnel, and training of staff. The building codes have been implemented to ensure that buildings are conducive for evacuation in cases of accidents not only fire accidents. However, it is a requirement that buildings should install fire extinguishers just in case of a fire. It is regrettable that fatalities in fire accidents are due to ignorance by the management on fire codes and building requirements for public safety (University, 2017). In the bid of avoiding preventable accidents from occurring, countries have put in place organizations that are responsible for inspecting, giving licenses, and maintaining the building codes and requirements.
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The emergence of fire at Beverly Club
Conclusions based on the investigations undertaken by the State Fire Marshal of Kentucky, the fire at Beverly Club originated from a concealed space at the Zebra room. The source of the fire was an electrical hinge, but it was accelerated by the presence of combustibles in the room. However, the presence of concealed and combustible ceiling tile, as well as the wood materials used in the ceiling, acted as a catalyst to increasing the fire menace. The State Fire Marshal noted that the on-site analysis of the Beverly Club construction of the concealed spaces at the Zebra room indicated that the fire had been in progress for a significant period before it was discovered. It is crucial to rely on the reports from individuals within the Zebra room where one of the occupants indicated that the electrical ignition that was supported by combustibles led to an intense heat buildup within the facility.
The heat up in the Zebra room resulted in the accumulation of smoke as well as hot gases that were in the room. Immediately after the intense heat up and smoke, the fire erupted, and it was at this point that the fire was realized. Attempts to put out the fire were initiated, and evacuation of the public in the building started to take place. During the process of dealing with the fire, a flash-over occurred which was a simultaneous ignition of all the combustible elements in the Zebra room. It is at this point that the fire accelerated to breaking out and spreading rapidly to the entire building through the double doors at the north end of the room (Bright, 1977, p. 4). The combustibles furnishings in this matter consist of several wooden tables, at least 20 or more chairs, and the carpet. However, the walls were covered with 3/16-inch hardboard paneling which also contributed to the spread of fire.
Contributing factors to the tragedy
It is important to make a critical analysis of the factors that contributed to the outbreak and the spread of fire as well as the reasons that contributed to the loss of life at Beverly Hills. The factors consist of the following;
Electrical fault and combustibles
It is the major source that brought about the fire in the Zebra room, but it was the combustibles that spread the fire to the entire facility. The combustibles comprised of wooden tables, carpet, and hardboard in the walls.
Poor notification to the Firefighters
The reports from the State Fire Marshal indicate that the employees discovered the fire between 8:45 and 8:50 pm in the Zebra room. Immediately after realizing there was a fire in the concealed region of the room, the employee who discovered the fire informed the club’s hostess who later ran around looking for the management. Two of the managers tried to fight the fire with portable fire extinguishers, but their efforts were futile. It is until 9:00 pm that the firefighters were contacted which took them a few minutes to be on the premises. Using this report, it is justifiable to conclude that the delay by the management and the employees to immediately alert the firefighters caused people their lives and money.
Human Ignorance in the Club
It is in the record that the public in the club at the time of the fire did not take the warning of the fire threat seriously. It is evident given that much of the evacuation process at the early stages of the incident had minimal difficulty since there were a few people who responded to the warning. Just after heavy smoke and intense heat descended on patrons who were trying to leave the Cabaret Room, they immediately realized the intensity of the situation and rushed to the exit points. Due to vigorous pushing and stumble from the already tensed individuals, they blocked the exit regions with their bodies (Teague, 2009, p. 10). The subject matter of the argument is that the ignorance that the public portrayed to the warning given about the fire caused the nation many important lives.
Obstructions in the building
During the evacuation process, the tables that were closely placed together and the presence of many chairs hindered the free and efficient movement of the people. It was difficult for the occupants of the club to move from one place to the exit point. The management should have designed the region not only in a manner to maximize profit but also in a pattern that favors the safety and free locomotion of their clients.
Poor Construction of the Assembly region
The previous editions of the Code at the time of the incident demanded that a Class A place of assembly should have the capacity to accommodate at least 1000 and more. The total occupants of the Beverly Hills Super Club were 2375, therefore, it had no Class A assembly region. The construction of the Club was only authorized to have a Class C which was restricted to 300 individuals or less.
Few number of exits
The number of exists based on 100 persons per unit of exit width and square footage should have been 27.5 units. However, the club only had 16.5 units while the second floor had no exit regions. The Cabaret Room in the club was required to have four exit sectors since it was a Class A place of assembly, but it only contained three exists. It is a clear indication that one of the contributing factors to the death toll at the Beverly Hills Super Club was few number of exits to evacuate every person safely.
Lack of an efficient fire alarm system
It is a basic requirement that all buildings or organizations providing goods and services to the public at a given fee or free should have an alarm system in case of any unexpected dangerous activity. The club patrons faced the challenge of escaping due to delay in notification about the fire. The Code required that an alarm system should be fitted in all occupancies except in the storage regions and fire assembly. Failure of the management to implement this basic requirement only indicate that it was concerned with making a profit rather than the safety and welfare of the public.
Contribution of Beverly Hills Super Club to development of codes, practices, beliefs, and research
The incident reminded the authorities and the public on the need of coming up with measures and policies to curb cases similar to the Beverly Hills Club. It is vital to consider the reforms that the incident introduced, and it includes
a.) A sprinkler system should be fitted in all assembly occupancies when the expected occupant load is to exceed a total of 300 individuals
b.) Every institution or entity should have clear markings of the exit sectors and the markings should be visible from any point in a common travel path
c.) The furnishing, floor, and the materials covering the walls of the building should be engineered to resist fire to avoid cases of combustion or spread of fire
d.) The designed fire assemblies in an entity should have sufficient exit doors to accommodate all the occupants within the premises in case of a given incident like fire
e.) The major entrance points in the building should have the capacity of handling half of the total occupants
f.) A fire alarm has to be installed in an assembly occupancy with an occupant load that is greater than 300 personnel
The requirements highlighted above originated from the challenges that were experienced in the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire incident. In the long run, the provisions provided the belief of what every building should adhere to for it to be deemed as safe for the human occupant. However, great research was carried out by the Fire department and other stakeholders to come up with above provisions. However, other fire incidences in the world have contributed to the increased building requirements that are meant to ensure public safety.
The paper has provided a critical analysis of the factors that contributed to the Beverly fire tragedy and ways of avoiding future similar cases. The assessment derived from the turnover of events at the premises indicate that a series of events took place and contributed to the loss of lives and property. Some of the findings show that the fire was unmanageable due to the presence of combustibles in the Club. However, the management of the issue was poor given that the employees took time to alert the firefighters. The number exits were also insufficient in handling the huge numbers at the club while the congestion of chairs and tables hindered the faster movement of the patrons (Whitt, 1977, p. 2). A better conclusion of the analysis is that the management did not invest in training the employees on handling fire outbreak cases. It is evident given that many of the employees did not adequately evacuate their clients, no proper communication happened to inform firefighting agencies, and no concerns were raised by the staff on inadequate firefighting gadgets in the club. Every institution has the responsibility of overseeing the safety of its clients first rather than concentrating on profit maximization.
- Bright, R. G. (1977). The BEVERLY HILLS SUPER CLUB FIRE . Washington, D.C: National Bureau of Standards.
- Teague, P. E. (2009). Case Histories: Fires Influencing the Life Safety Code, 1-14.
- University, B. (2017). SECURITY & FIRE SAFETY REPORT, 1-18.
- Whitt, R. (1977). The Beverly Hills Fire Tragedy, 1-4.