Articles and Educational Resources
On April 21, 1930, one of the worst prison disasters in American history occurred. The disaster didn't have one defining factor that brought the disaster to the level it became, but a cluster of issues that caused a catastrophe. The fire that ignited was the death blow to an already broken facility.
On November 28, 1942, the Cocoanut Grove fire killed 492 people in Boston, MA. In one night, that fire inspired change in building code across the country, advanced medical treatment for burn victims, popularized the use of penicillin, and put the mob on display. It became the deadliest nightclub fire in history and the second deadliest building fire in U.S. history, it follows the Iroquois Theater Fire in Chicago with 602 victims.
Today, assisted living facilities have strict fire protection code. Occupants need to be able to stay in place in the event of a fire. Residents may be bedridden, have physical impairments, or have cognitive issues that can affect their ability to evacuate in the event of a fire. However, in 1953, that was not the case. It wasn’t until 2002 that government agencies began taking a closer look at the fire protection needs of assisted living facilities, following several deadly senior living fires. In 1953, when the Littlefield Nursing Home burned, fire codes were barely existent – and the results show below.
For Midwest’s commercial facilities, fire sprinkler code and inspection requirements are somewhat elusive. An inspection that takes place every five years is even more misunderstood. To clarify, fire sprinklers should be inspected regularly.
The sparks of aluminum wiring in the walls could have been smoldering for hours by the time the smoke lingered along the ceiling line. It only took the introduction of some oxygen into the room to create a ball of fire shooting through the large entertainment venue, killing 165 people.
There are two sides to the fire sprinkler debate. The first camp is builders and government regulators that think fire sprinklers are too costly and can cause water damage. The second camp are fire crews, insurance companies, and fire protection activists who believe that the fire protection aspect of fire sprinklers outweigh those arguments. After all, studies have shown that fire sprinklers reduce the likelihood of a fire related death by 82%.
When a 32-story high-rise in the center of the financial district quickly turned into a towering inferno, it showed just how important fire protection truly is. As it so happened, that building was undergoing an extensive fire protection renovation that had not yet been completed. The fire caused $72 million in damage to the building. Fire sprinklers reduce property damage by 70% on average and extinguish the fire in less than half the time it takes for fire crews to arrive in many cases. So, if the fire protection had been completed, it is fair to say the outcome would likely have been different.
It was bitterly cold on December 30, 1903 in Chicago. Mothers and their children were occupying their time with the theater on their winter break, and the biggest show was "Mr. Blue Beard" at the Iroquois Theater. The show was so packed that with only 1,600 seats, the theater packed in an estimated 2,100-2,300 people with standing room only seats. An additional 400 people were backstage, creating a packed house for the matinee show.
A property fire is devastating in many ways. When a fire sparks in a residential property, there is the potential for a loss of life, property, and insurmountable financial costs. In one event, a property owner and his property manager were hit with all three when a fire started in fifty-nine year old Harry Simpson's apartment and moved quickly. It destroyed the building, the neighboring building, and killed Simpson; Robert Thomas, 31; Bernice Suerez, 33; and Jermaine Allen, 37. Thomas' mother filed a lawsuit against the property owner, property manager, and the city of Schenectady. The lawsuit claims that all three parties were aware of dangerous and hazardous conditions of the building. That building also happened to be inspected the day before the fire. The inspector found that the only issue was an expired fire alarm system certification.
On July 6, 1944, a carelessly flicked cigarette incinerated 167-169 people in a matter of 8 minutes on a lovely day at the circus. A combination of low staffing, due to World War II, unsafe waterproofing, hastily thrown together circus grounds, and one cigarette caused the worst fire disaster in Connecticut's history.
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Water lies dormant in a fire sprinkler after an activation. The weather turns cold and the water freezes and expands. It expands so much that tiny cracks form in the pipe. Spring rolls around and the floodgates open in your brand new lobby. Thousands of dollars in damage happen in the fifteen minutes it takes for the water supply to be turned off. If you don’t think this can happen to you, see the examples below that happened in the last few years.
On May 11, 1984, smoke filled the haunted castle as actors dressed as butchers and hunchbacks corralled patrons out of the burning building. Strobe lights gave glances of the grim scene. However, no one knew until after the fire was extinguished the true toll of the fire.
The worst disaster in pre-atom bomb history may have been an event you never heard of: The Halifax Explosion of 1917. Why haven't you heard of it? While it wasn't war-related, it took place during WWI and got lost in the madness of the time and slipped from history. Despite the event being shrouded in a mass of violence and devastation, this event alone killed 1,800 people, injured 9,000, blinded 200, and destroyed a city.
If you were in Indianapolis and you were someone, you stayed at the Indianapolis Athletic Club. Frequented by Presidents, Olympians, and entertainers, this establishment was the epitome of excellence – that was, until February 5, 1992. A fire, sparked by a barroom mini‐refrigerator, grew out of control and killed three people because of a perfect set of terrible circumstances.
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On October 10, 1996, an electrical fire ignited at 30 Rockefeller Plaza at 4am, surprising an early morning television show taping and causing the cancellation of several shows.
At 3:59am, a civilian called 9-1-1 after seeing smoke billowing from a window on the fifth floor. Fire crews arrived, and came straight to the security station at the front desk. The arriving firefighters asked question after question, wondering where the fire was, how it started, what was the building layout. However, security crews had no idea that a fire had ignited in the building. No alarms went off. No one evacuated. No smoky tendrils drifted to the first floor.
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In 1976, five fraternity brothers were killed in a fire in the Kappa Sigma fraternity at Baker University. In 1977, ten women were killed in an inferno in a dorm fire at Providence College. In 1996, five students died at a Phi Gamma Delta fraternity after someone carelessly tossed a cigarette. As recent as 2007, six students from the University of South Carolina and Clemson University died in a shared house fire. From 1990 to 2000, 8 fires in dormitories resulted in 10 student fatalities and 11 fires in Greek housing caused 23 deaths. All of these fires started from carelessness. Students are free for the first time in their life, and some are not prepared for the responsibility that living independently requires.As business grows, the warehouse must grow with it. Expanding the footprint of the building to accommodate a growing business is far more expensive than building up. However, when a warehouse expands in height, fire protection becomes an issue. In-rack sprinklers or ceiling fire sprinklers need to be able to reach wherever the fire is, and if pallets are stacked too high, they will inhibit the spray.
“The phrase we tend to use is that we are deafened by silence – the silence in our house because we had a really busy house with three two year olds,” said Martin Weekes, the father of triplets who perished in the Qatar mall fire that took the lives of nineteen people, including thirteen toddlers. The Qatar mall is being investigated over complaints that fire sprinklers and alarms were not working at the time of the fire. Any mall, shopping center, or retail outlet that does not fix discrepancies found in an inspection or fails to inspect according to the NFPA schedule could cause the same devastation.
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On Sunday, February 17, 1957, a visitor at Katie Jane Nursing Home in Warrenton, Missouri saw flames shooting out of a utility closet during religious services. One hundred and fifty-five people lived in the two and a half story nursing home at the time of the fire, but only eighty-five people survived the fire. It was determined that the facility had inadequate fire escapes, no sprinkler system, no alarm system, no evacuation plan, and some residents were locked inside their rooms. This fire helped pave the way for fire protection in assisted living facilities.
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Shopping malls go hand-in-hand with adaptation. The evolution of the mall began with Trajan's Market, built in Rome around 100-110 AD. The concept of the mall evolved from an open air market to the modern day, enclosed mall, first built in Edina, Minnesota in 1956. Shopping malls continue to change to adopt new retail ventures. It is this continuous change that provides a backdrop to hidden areas that may unknowingly be prone to freezing fire protection sprinkler pipes.
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Contractor Magazine: view Contractor Magazine's article on F.E. Moran Fire Protection's North Central College project.
NFPA Report: U.S. Experience with Fire Sprinklers
On November 22, 2006, a malevolent explosion turned the town of Danvers, MA upside down. The explosion started in a chemical manufacturing plant, destroying it. The subsequent fires had far-reaching effects; it destroyed twenty-four homes, six business, and dozens of boats at a nearby marina. At least ten residents were hospitalized as a direct result of the explosion, and over 300 residents in the nearby neighborhood were evacuated. This disaster spurred the residents of Danvers, MA to establish community groups' Safe Area for Everyone (SAFE) and re-established the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) determined that the explosion was fueled by escaped vapor from a 2,000-gallon tank of highly flammable liquid. The ensuing fire blazed for seventeen hours.
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