Ask a life safety expert if conditions at nightclubs and other places of assembly have improved since the Station fire a decade ago, and the answer will most likely be a mixed bag.
“The awareness level of the need for preparedness — whether it’s crowd manager training or emergency action plans — has risen fairly substantially,” says Harold Hansen, director of Life Safety and Security for the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) and member of the NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, Assembly Occupancies Committee. “The venues are much more in tune with the issues and are aware of the possibility [of an incident]. I still think there remains a fair amount of complacency from them that says, ‘We know how to evacuate.’ The answer is they do. But is the staff training adequate enough to do it effectively?”
To address this issue, IAVM has joined a handful of U.S. states that have created versions of crowd manager training programs tied to NFPA code provisions. The programs, developed in response to the Station fire, require a “trained crowd manager” for every 250 people in assembly occupancies. Since its inception in 2010, nearly 7,600 people have taken IAVM’s course which includes an online component and a two-hour, venue-specific training session. IAVM plans to roll out a region-specific, classroom-based course for venues looking to train large numbers of people later this year.
Despite these efforts, safety oversights in nightclubs continue, and have been responsible for a number of deadly fires and non-fire events worldwide over the past decade. A few of those include:
Lame Horse Nightclub
December 4, 2009
A pyrotechnics display during an overcrowded party at the Russian nightclub ignited the building’s plastic ceiling and combustible decorations. Patrons stormed the only known exit, an act that crushed and choked some of them to death, according to Reuters. Others perished in the fire. In all, nearly 160 people died and dozens were injured.
January 1, 2009
Minutes after Thailand rang in the New Year, pyrotechnics coinciding with a band’s performance were set off inside the Santika Pub. The sparks ignited the ceiling, causing chunks of combustible material and metal to hit the ground. As the fire spread through the overcrowded venue, which lacked sprinklers and a fire alarm system, club goers attempted escape but were hampered by a fire-induced power outage that took out the lighting. More than 400 patrons stormed the main exit that, along with the building’s other fire exits, couldn’t sufficiently accommodate a proper evacuation during the fire. Nearly 70 people were killed and more than 220 injured, making the incident the worst nightclub fire in the nation’s history.
Cromagnon Republic Club
Buenos Aires, Argentina
December 30, 2004
A rock concert at the Cromagnon Republic Club turned deadly when a patron at the unsprinklered venue shot a flare at the ceiling during a concert. The flare caused the ceiling’s foam and other combustible materials to ignite, forcing patrons at the overcrowded club—three times the venue’s capacity, according to news reports — to scramble to exits that were locked by management to prevent patrons from entering without paying an entrance fee. The blaze was the deadliest in Argentine history — nearly 200 patrons, most of them teenagers, died, and another 1,400 were injured, according to The Guardian.
February 17, 2003
More than 1,100 patrons — roughly five times its capacity — were packed into the E2 nightclub when a fight erupted on the crowded dance floor, prompting security to break up the dispute using pepper spray, according to the Associated Press. As the overhead fans dispersed the irritant, the crowd rushed the exits looking for fresh air, many of them heading down a narrow staircase toward the front entrance. Pushing and shoving ensued, resulting in a human pileup as high as six feet [2 meters], according to news reports. The crowd crush led to 21 deaths and nearly 60 injuries. Following that incident, and the fire at The Station nightclub three days later, NFPA enhanced and further strengthened a series of already stringent code provisions addressing crowd control, egress, and sprinkler installation for both new and existing assembly occupancies.