By Jim Tidwell
How many times do we have to watch as our citizens die needlessly in night clubs and other public assemblies? When will responsible parties make life safety a priority? When will we be comfortable sending our young adults to entertainment venues?
The answer is not more code requirements; the answer is not more political speeches; the answer is not more hand wringing.
The answer is to apply the regulations currently in place:
- Install and maintain adequate exits
- Prevent overcrowding
- Install early warning systems and sprinkler systems
- Limit the use of pyrotechnics
- Assure that crowd managers are trained and in place as required by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and International Code Council (ICC) codes.
- Enforce the other applicable code requirements, such as limitations on flammable decorations.
In terms of public assemblies, inspectors can gain significant leverage by making sure the required crowd managers are properly trained to recognize common fire hazards and correct them on site. Fulfilling the requirements for crowd managers in these facilities effectively multiplies the inspectors' influence by placing additional eyes and ears in the venues. This is one of the most overlooked code provisions, and one that has the potential to make a significant difference in the level of safety in our public assemblies. The codes don't require these facilities to hire additional personnel; rather, they simply require a basic level of training that will give designated personnel the tools to recognize common fire hazards and react appropriately in case of an emergency.
Overall, fire prevention, as one tool in our toolbox to reduce our communities' risks, is frequently overlooked or minimized as a legitimate means to effect a higher level of safety. We all realize that budgets are tight; prevention is one of the "easy" places to reduce spending and there are far more sexy programs to fund. But prevention is important. Staffing fire prevention offices appropriately, training inspectors in their role, and providing support for their actions can mean a dramatically safer community.
Fire service leaders should use every opportunity to promote safety through fire prevention, and use these "teaching moments" to point out the need for better staffing and training of fire prevention offices. To ignore the negative impact that recent economic conditions have had on our fire prevention efforts is to accept the tragic losses over and over again. No fire chief should allow that to happen.
Download a checklist for fire prevention at place of public assembly HERE (PDF).
Jim Tidwell is a code consultant with a long history in fire prevention. His company is Tidwell Code Consulting, and he primarily works to develop and promote changes to the ICC and NFPA codes and standards consistent with public safety and his clients' needs. He retired from the Fort Worth (TX) Fire Department after a 30-year career there, having spent time as the executive deputy chief and interim fire chief.