PART I: FIRE CODE COMPLIANCE
The City of Miami Beach Fire Prevention Division enforces the Florida Fire Prevention Code-2007 as adopted by the State of Florida. The Florida Fire Prevention Code consists of NFPA 1 and NFPA 101, The Life Safety Code, and numerous other NFPA codes and standards.
The nightclub owner is responsible for complying with all the requirements as stated in the Florida Fire Prevention Code. Many of the deadly fires in recent history resulted due to one or several violations to fire code requirements. Please see list of fires below.
In addition, there were 21 deaths when patrons rushed to one exit after a fight broke out inside the E2 nightclub in Chicago on February 17, 2003. The club was overcrowded and had several code violations.
The nightclub owners and managers are responsible for fire safety in the establishment. In the Station fire above, the band manager pled guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter under a plea bargain with prosecutors facing up to 10 years in prison. Superior Court Judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison, with four to serve and 11 years suspended, plus three years probation, for his role in setting off the fire. The nightclub owners changed their pleas from “not guilty” to “no contest”. One of the owners was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with four to serve and 11 years suspended, plus three years probation. The second nightclub owner received a 10-year suspended sentence, three years probation, and 500 hours of community service.
As of August 2008, nearly $175 million has been offered to the families of the victims of the fire by various defendants in settlement.
An assembly occupancy is generally defined as an occupancy used for a gathering of 50 or more persons for deliberation, entertainment, eating, drinking, amusement or similar uses. Assembly occupancies might include the following: auditoriums, theatres, assembly halls, nightclubs, dance halls, drinking establishments, and exhibition halls among others.
Fire in assembly occupancies have shown to be some of the most deadly when the proper features, systems, and construction materials were not present. Nightclubs, theaters and auditoriums differ from office buildings, for example, because they contain a large number of people in one main space. NFPA code provisions mandate that a considerable number of safety systems and features be present in order to keep everyone safe should a fire occur. The level of safety is achieved through the combination of multiple safeguards that are provided.
The NFPA 101, The Life Safety Code, is the primary source for the requirements for nightclub and bar lounges. Committee of experts have developed many of these requirements in response to investigations and analysis of actual incidents. The code book is divided into two chapters, Chapter 13 addresses requirements for existing assembly occupancies and Chapter 12 addresses requirements for new assembly occupancies (new is defined as newly constructed or renovated as of January 1, 2009). If a nightclub is issued a certificate of occupancy as of January 1, 2009 and complied with the new chapter, the owner cannot change or lessen the requirements down to the requirements in Chapter 13.
The FFPC requirements are too many to list in this pamphlet. However, the major items in Chapter 13 – Existing assembly occupancies are listed below.
Among all structure fires, nightclub fires in the US are proportionately few in number. However, maximum or over-capacity crowds at popular nightclubs create the potential for high numbers of casualties in the event of a fire or other incident.
A common safety violation at nightclubs is locked, blocked or impeded exits. Management must make this a priority to ensure that the nightclub does not have this problem by inspecting all exit components prior to and routinely during operation.
The most common causes of fire at nightclubs and bars are incendiary, electrical, cooking, and smoking. Incendiary fires at nightclubs are nearly twice as frequent as those in all structures. (source U.S. Fire Administration/Nightclub Fire in 2000 )
The highest deaths and casualties are often caused by lack of sufficient exits. Even if sufficient number of exits is provided, human nature is that most patrons will attempt to leave out of the same door in which they entered, rather than looking for other exits. Therefore, the majority of the crowd may rush to the front entrance. Sometimes the patrons become packed so tightly near the front door that the firefighters cannot enter. In The Station nightclub, several people fell in a pile in the main doorway, trapping everyone behind them inside.